Posts tagged ‘Test preparation’

Friday Finds: PurpleMath.com

It started one embarrassing day when my resource student began to learn about factoring quadratic equations. Now, I teach elementary/middle school. In my day, you didn’t meet one of these until at least the middle of high school, and I don’t think I understood them until college – and even that was, ahem, x years ago. The textbook was no help. I excused the student from homework that night and went home with a headache.

Then I found PurpleMath.com. Their “factoring hard quadratics” page here did more than just clarify the lesson – it introduced a graphic method that I’d never seen before but made the entire process simpler and more organized. The lesson included clear, step-by-step examples, and a quiz that went through the steps one at a time instead of just leaving you to figure out how to independently apply the new skill, as most web quizzes I’ve seen do.

I was so excited to bring the strategy to my student the next day, and we both shared the heady feeling of being able to easily and accurately do something that had been beyond us just yesterday.

The content is very thorough and covers topics relevant to middle school through college. It is geared to students but, as in my case, can be helpful to teachers too, especially in elementary grades where you need not be a math specialist to have math on your curriculum. Even if you are naturally good at math, it can help to see the steps clearly explained in a way that your students will understand. A clearer understanding of the math will help you teach it more clearly.

The site also includes a forum for users to submit questions. There’s a lot of homework help going on there, and it seems to be up-to-date and reasonably active, if not really buzzing (I guess math homework isn’t that viral).

All the content is free and organized decently. You can download the lessons on CD for a reasonable price. There are ads but all I have seen so far are appropriate and unobtrusive. I would feel very comfortable directing students to this site for extra help.

December 2, 2011 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Wednesday Whatsits: What’s the ELA?

(Apologies to the rest of the universe, as this post is kind of NY-centric. I really don’t know what goes on elsewhere.)

Year after year, I run into at least a handful of students, teachers, and parents in a tizzy about the ELAs. They’re not sure what they are, why they matter, or what to do about them, but they hope I know. And is my kid going to have to take a science ELA?

For starters, please calm down. ELA stands for just “English Language Arts,” and yes, there will be a test.

What is it?

In New York State, the ELA test is given to students in grades 3-8 every Spring. It is a pretty standard language arts test, which includes short reading and listening passages, multiple choice questions, and written responses. Some grades also have a short proofreading exercise. It’s usually given in two sessions on two consecutive days.

Does it matter?

It might. Depending on your school, the results might be used for class placement decisions or to screen for academic risks. Some intervention programs use the results to determine which students should receive government-funded enrichment. School-wide averages may also be used to flag those in need of extra help. In my school, promotion decisions are never based solely on state tests, but it’s up to the schools to decide how much weight to give it.

What should we do about it?

Not much, in my opinion. The New York ELA test seems to address standard skills directly enough that you don’t need to waste much time and energy on test prep. My focus in test preparation is just to let students know what to expect so they don’t get confused and intimidated when opening the test booklet. What this looks like:

  • At the beginning of the year and throughout: Read the state standards so you know what students are expected to know. It won’t tell you exactly what to teach but will give you a general idea of what skill areas to look at.
  • All year: Give a couple of test-style multiple choice questions on each reading assignment. Weave in strategies such as reading all the choices and using the process of elimination.
  •  All year: Integrate language-arts words into your vocabulary, and make sure that students understand them. Use phrases like “character traits” and “theme,” for example.
  • All year: Consider accommodations. The day of the test is too late to arrange for extra time, directions read aloud, or such. Notice when kids are struggling in regular classroom tests and alert your school’s special needs coordinator.
  • Before the test: Do a couple of sample essays with your students. The test essays follow very specific formats, so you can easily coach your students on what is expected of them (more on that in some future post if desired)
  • About a week before the test: Print out a sample test and spend a period or so familiarizing your students with the directions and layout, which change very little (if at all) from year to year.

Note that until the month of the test if not later, my recommendations don’t really change your teaching much at all. Beyond that, there’s nothing you can really do to cram language skills.

What about the math ELA?

Now that you know ELA stands for English Language Arts, you can figure that there is no math, science, or history ELA. Trick question, but one that I’m asked all the time! However, there are state assessments in other subjects, my recommendations for those are similar though I don’t care for the tests as much, and this post is long enough without going into it! Until next time, then!

November 2, 2011 at 5:11 pm 2 comments


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