As I write this, I am four days (two classroom days) away from the end of the year! This time of year brings to mind studying for finals, wrapping everything up, reflecting and, after a few more weeks, initiating my summer planning. Whether or not it feels that way in what can often be a hectic last few weeks, summer is a great time to think about the last year and plan for the next one.
This reflection is particularly relevant heading into the 2014-2015 school year when Common Core assessments will be used for the first time in 48 states nationwide. Even if you are not in a state that will implement the Common Core, your method of teaching will still likely be impacted by the conversation around “college and career readiness” that has been sparked by the new Standards. Originally, looking at the Common Core assessments and standards was an overwhelming task; I did not know where to start. However, the more time I spend creating, using, and evaluating content that aligns with the Common Core, the more I realize that I don’t need to spend this whole summer reinventing the wheel. Instead, I can make some specific, purposeful changes to my curriculum more aligned to the Common Core without memorizing every standard and abbreviation. In this post, I have outlined some steps that aren’t monumental changes, though they can go a long way towards preparing your students for the Common Core and, more importantly, improving the quality of your teaching!
Change #1: Keep Your Multiple Choice Questions, But Make Them Harder!
- Why? The changes below will help you make your multiple choice questions less about test-taking skills and more about enduring understandings.
- How? Standard multiple choice questions have 4 answer choices and 1 correct answer. This gives students a 25% chance to guess and get the question right. Including a fifth answer choice drops this percentage to 20%.
- Want to Go Even Further? A lot of the Common Core questions have more than 4 answer choices and multiple correct answers. Simply changing the prompt “select all that apply” will increase the rigor of your questions significantly. Check out the complexity of the multiple choice questions in this polynomial and rational functions review assignment. I know, I know: these questions were kind of complicated already…
Change #2: Use Interactive Question Types!
- Why? The SmarterBalanced and PAARC exams make use of more interactive questions types, such as drag and drop, building a bar graph, or highlighting portions of the text. By making the questions in your own assessments more interactive, students will automatically get practice for the end-of-year exams.
- How? When you make assessments for your class, check to see how they break down percentage-wise in terms of question type. Below is a breakdown of question types on the SmarterBalanced exams.
- Want to Go Even Further? Edcite is the only free platform to give teachers access to the interactive questions types used on the SmarterBalanced/PAARC exams. By putting up even 1 or 2 of your offline worksheets into the Edcite system, you will give your students practice with an online assignment and with interactive questions, both of which are the major components of the Common Core end-of-year exams. Check out how many interactive question types were used in this cross-curricular, Common Core performance task.
Change #3: Ask Students To Explain Their Thinking As Often As Possible!
- Why? In line with the “college and career readiness” theme of the Common Core, the SmarterBalanced/PAARC exams often ask students to explain their thinking or apply a concept to the real world. This practice pushes students to deeper levels of understanding. From a teacher’s perspective, asking students for explanations can show gaps or misconceptions in their understanding.
- How? There are many different ways to encourage students to explain their thinking. Here are some ideas:
- After a particularly challenging multiple choice question, ask students to explain how they arrived at their answer. (Question #2 and #3 in this 6th grade math performance task apply this concept really well!)
- Give students a wrong answer and have them explain why that answer is incorrect (question #3 in this Pythagorean Theorem assignment does a great job of that!)
- End all of your assessments with a free response section, like this 7th grade ELA assignment does. Even if you don’t grade the responses, you are still providing your students with valuable practice!
- Want to Go Even Further? Check out these assignments, where the authors give students ample opportunity to explain their reasoning.
- Elementary — 5th Grade ELA Assignment on Soda/Sugar tax where students select text to support their answer and then write persuasively about their stance
- Middle School — 7th Grade Math Assignment on Ratios and Proportions with free response follow ups to questions so students can explain their problem solving process
- High School — Biology Performance Task on Vaccines where students analyze different sources of information using their knowledge of biology
Change #3 is my favorite because it increases student engagement. It empowers them to explain themselves and think critically both in and outside of the classroom. In future blog posts, I will discuss broader-scale curricular changes (like project-based learning) can bolster student engagement and prepare them for the Common Core. For now, I think I’ve assigned enough summer homework, don’t you?