222.  I teach a reading class for high school students. The students must pass a state-mandated Competency Test in Reading. To prepare them for the test I use a booklet where students are given practice in reading short selections and then answering a
question or two in writing about a specific literary element-- for example, point of view, flashback, foreshadowing, etc. Usually, the students read the brief selection, answer the questions in writing, and then we discuss their answers. Many times their answers are wrong, their writing seems to be very simple and to the point, and they seem to have trouble understanding the literary elements.  What is the best way to prepare these students for their Competency Test.

ANSWER

Recently I had the opportunity to help a high school teacher in a rural area of NC with a very similar situation. His class consisted mostly of African American students with a number of English Learners among the group of about 17 9th graders in the class.   Although all students had either native English language skills or fairly developed English-as -Second Language skills, their weakest area was Vocabulary Development.

The teacher was using a booklet with short English selections which students had to read silently. Then the students answered brief questions in writing about the literary element illustrated in the short selection. I do not have evidence that this approach is the most effective way to reach the goal of vocabulary development so students can correctly respond to a test question on reading comprehension and literary elements containing words they have never seen before.

One of the key ideas in helping students prepare for a test is that the students must be provided materials they are totally familiar with so they can demonstrate mastery of a particular concept. If students are provided material they have never seen before and material with many unknown words or words they do not understand, then it is very hard to explain whether failure to demonstrate mastery of the concept is due to lack of knowledge about the concept or lack of understanding because the words in the reading passage were not known.

I suggest that in helping prepare for a test, students tell the teacher which literature works they have already read in previous grades. FROM THESE known and already read works of literature, the teacher can select passages that show any of the elements of literature that may appear in the test. Giving students the selected passages which (1)they already understand and (2) they can read with ease, and asking the students to identify in these passages any literary element the teacher may choose is the kind of activity that will help the teacher determine whether any failure is due exclusively to lack of understanding of the concept at hand, i.e., lack of understanding of the literary element.

If the teacher chooses to use works of literature or passages NOT KNOWN to the students, that is, passages the students never read before, then the teacher MUST PRESENT the entire vocabulary found in the passage BEFORE students read the passage. To help students master the vocabulary, the teacher may have to use lots of pictures, realia, maps, pantomime, or any other visual aids needed to communicate to the students the meaning of the vocabulary words, NOTE: At the end of this section or ANSWER you will find how I organized for presentation the VOCABULARY found in FOUR different segments that students read FOR THE FIRST TIME in trying to identify a literary element.

AFTER presenting the vocabulary, the teacher may seek evidence that the students understand the words they will find in the
passage by asking students oral questions about the words AND the passage they are about to read. For example, the teacher
can ask students to predict what may happen in the passage, given the vocabulary words introduced. The teacher may ask
students to use the words in the vocabulary orally in meaningful sentences. The teacher may remind students of previous literature works they read where synonyms or antonyms of the vocabulary words may have been used.

NOW, after full mastery of the vocabulary in the forthcoming selection, the teacher may ask the students to read the passage silently, or the teacher and the students may read the passage in the following way: The teacher begins to read the passage outloud while students follow her reading silently; then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the teacher stops. The students read outloud together the ONE word that appears after the teacher stopped. The teacher continues reading and stops again. The students read together and outloud the following ONE word. The teacher continues reading and stopping every so often and the students read silently along or read outloud together the ONE word after each time the teacher stops. This way of reading insures, if the teacher stops BEFORE key vocabulary words, that students have the opportunity to read in context the key vocabulary words presented previously by the teacher.

After the reading of the passage by the teacher AND the students, students can read the passage in pairs or they can read the passage silently, or one or several students can read consecutive sections of the passage outloud for the class. Teacher can ask questions orally to insure full and complete understanding of the passage and then, the teacher can ask the students to answer questions about the literary element(s) being TESTED through the presented passage. Failure to answer correctly the questions about the literary element(s) tested fully indicates that the student needs help in understanding the concept(s) in the literary element(s) tested.

 

 


For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
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5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
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Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

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