Thursday, February 14, 2013

Seventh Grade Writing Test Tips

Though this is my eighth year of teaching, it is my first year teaching seventh grade English. Overall the transition has been smooth (especially thanks to my awesome partner teacher), but one thing struck fear into my heart as soon as I heard I would be teaching seventh grade: the State Writing Test (cue scary music).

If you aren't aware, all seventh graders in California take a writing test each March. There are four possible genres (Narrative, Response to Literature, Persuasion, and Summary). The kids have as long as they need on that day to write a response, and these scores count for our API/AYP. At my school there are two seventh grade English teachers, so I feel pressure for my kids to do well.

I wanted to share some strategies that I think have been helpful this year (though I guess I won't know for sure until I get their scores), and also ask any other seventh grade teachers how you prepare. What are you best tips/lessons?

Here are ours:

*Obviously the kids need to do a lot of writing. For each genre, we've done a process piece, where they follow a format, look at examples, and write their own. They can get help from me or each other, we do peer editing, and a final draft that they type. Then, immediately after the first piece, we do an in-class writing of the same genre, to simulate the test. On this one, they can't get much help (I will occasionally answer a question, but no notes or asking each other). We score this on a four-point scale, just as the state does. We've also done a few extra pieces throughout the year (one extra response to lit and one extra narrative). We also gave a narrative prompt as an extra credit assignment over Christmas Break. Not a ton of kids did it, but the ones who did got some extra practice.

*We've created handouts that have the "formula" for each genre, that the kids keep in their notebooks. Of course, not all writing follows a formula, but since they're first learning I've found this to be helpful.

*We have also gone through the state rubric with them. The timed-writings we've done have all been former test questions that the state has released. After they write, we show them examples of a four, three, and two point essay for the prompt. (We also show them the one pointers, just to amuse them. They are pretty terrible.) They pair-share and discuss what each person did well, and what they got marked down for. This has helped them identify what makes a good essay/story. Then, they trade papers and grade each other's with a more detailed rubric that we've created. For homework, they can take it home and fix their essays to get a three or a four.

*Next week we are going to put the kids in groups and have them make posters. Each group will have a genre to make a "how-to" poster about. They will then present the posters as a reminder for each genre.

*The last week before we are going to have them rate themselves on each genre. Then they will have to write a essay/story for the genre they rank themselves the lowest on. Because we're evil like that. We will provide support and mini-lessons to the kids in each group.

*The day before the test we are doing a sorting activity. We are going to cut up versions of our formula handouts for each genre. With a partner, they are going to put them in order and talk about anything they don't remember. This gives them a last-minute review, that is hopefully low-stress and at least a little fun.

After that, we just hope and pray that it's not a response to literature prompt! I would love to see persuasion, but obviously there's no way of knowing what we'll get.

So, other seventh grade teachers, I'd love to hear your advice. What's worked well for you in the past?