Saturday, January 23, 2010

More "BEST Ideas for Preparing Students for the DWA"

Dear Colleagues,

On Thursday I wrote about the long and winding road that brought our state to this juncture - an online writing assessment, scored by artificial intelligence. Because the road has been a long one, the post grew in length as well, and I didn't share some of the best ideas I've discoverd for preparing 8th graders for this journey.

I created a PowerPoint presentation - I know it's the 21st century version of a black/white board, but it helps me stay a little more focused when I'm teaching. Because the PowerPoint includes several links to some excellent resources, I thought it might be helpful for educators who drop by Link2Literacy. (Click HERE to review the PPoint.)

Before sharing some other good ideas that came out of Friday's class with about 30 eighth grade teachers, I want to reiterate that the DWA is an UNTIMED test. It's difficult, but it's important that schools allow students to complete their essay in ONE SITTING but also be allowed to work on it AS LONG AS THEY NEED TO.

Testing results are COMPROMISED if this is NOT allowed. For example, two schools in our district consist of similar student populations as far as social economic status (SES) and standardized test scores are concerned. But one school consistently scores several points higher on the DWA test. I pondered over that because I know that both schools boast of exceptional teachers as well as involved parents. When I learned that one school administered the writing test as a TIMED test, limiting it to about 45 minutes, while the other followed USOE's guidelines of setting it up as untimed, I concluded that the differences in the scores MIGHT BE attributed to the timing differences.

Furthermore, the validity and reliability of the results is compromised if some schools are timing the tests and others are not. The fact that ALL students throughout the state cannot take the test at the same time also affects test security AND test results. The test may very well be flawed, but it's all we have, and it can still provide data to inform our instruction.

Now what are some tips for making this a good experience for our kids? Here are just a few ideas gleaned from Friday's DWA workshop.
  • Acknowledging that writing assessments are a genre in and of themselves, we also want to stress that students will encounter writing assessments in the "real" world. Several teachers shared their experiences of writing to a prompt as part of job interviews. The most interesting was the teacher who once applied for a position in the banking industry and had to answer the question, "If you were an animal, what would you choose to be?" She wrote about being a race horse. Interesting.

  • We also discussed the fact that in the "Fake World" of the testing situation, students will not be able to research expert opinions and so they will have to "make up" data, direct quotes, and authorities to support their claims. As ludicrous as this is, it does serve a couple of purposes: 1) it teaches students HOW and WHERE to include this type of documentation; 2) it is engaging for students to create important sounding monikers and impressive data. We just hope they don't follow the footsteps of individuals who find this process can also be applied to doctoring up resumes.

  • Because any type of assessment can be stressful, let's not turn the test PREPARATION into something traumatic, too. Let's remember that writing well is a great life skill and the persuasive essay, letter, proposal, etc. requires higher order thinking and descriptive, logical, and clear writing. Some tips on building engaging instruction include ... assigning students intriguing prompts that they can relate to; requiring them to take a stand one day and refute that opinion the next; allowing them to orally debate the questions; organizing them into collaborative groups to tackle topics; giving them some choices of prompts; letting them create prompts; and providing opportunities for "authentic" persuasive writing.
Before signing off, I want to tell you that if you are worried about students' typing skills, there is a link on the  PowerPoint where students can go to practice. There are also links to lesson plans, model papers, and PowerPoint presentations that can be shared with students.

Best of luck, Friends.

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