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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mentor Answers to Constructed Response Questions



Something I include in our ISNs for each skill I teach is a mentor answer to a constructed response question. When I began including these two years ago, I can honestly say that the answers I started to get improved at an alarming pace!! Before, when I would give students questions that were specific to the story they were reading, the students made some growth over the year, but nothing like the growth I started to see after making the switch to mentor answers. I think what would happen when students were required to answer lots of different questions that all evaluated a skill, was that they were not transferring what they were learning about, say, mood and tone, from question to question. It was like they were never learning the skill deeply, or completely because they were always just touching the surface of the skill when they would answer all the individual questions about mood and tone.

But, I found that when students were being asked the same questions again and again, just using different stories each time, the answers got better and better because their understanding of the skill got better and better.

I am not sure what I just wrote was completely clear, so let me show you:

The old way I taught would have been like this:
  1. Read a story and answer this question: "What is the climax of this story? How do you know?"
  2. Read second story and answer this question: "Name two events from the rising action. How do these actions create suspense?"
  3. Read third story and answer this question: "Evaluate how the characters' actions drive the plot of this story."
  4. Read fourth story and answer this question: "Describe how the plot unfolds in this story."
** What I found would happen was that the kids who understood plot elements, could answer each question decently. The kids who struggled with plot elements, answered none of the questions well.

Now, I teach it like this:
  1. Read a story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
  2. Read second story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
  3. Read third story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
  4. Read fourth story and answer this question: "Analyze how the actions of the characters create the rising action and climax of this story."
** Now what happens: the kids who understand plot, can give a decent answer the first time and an AMAZING the last time. And, the kids who struggle with plot elements, will struggle the first time or two, but are doing great with it by the last time.

Since the story is different each time, it's not that kids are memorizing the answer, rather they are really coming to understand how the character's actions drive the plot. Also, they are getting a feel for the organizational structure of a short constructed response about plot elements. The more comfortable they get with their understanding, the better their answers become. And as the year goes on, I will continue to break out these questions over and over, even after we are well out of the unit where that specific skill is taught... that really keeps them on their toes!

I think of answering constructed response questions now like I think of process writing... The more you revise, the better it gets!

How do you teach constructed response? Do you have a strategy that works well for you?

Happy teaching!!
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