5 Steps to Strong Constructed Response


Back when I first began teaching (and probably back when YOU were in school), most reading tests were multiple choice with an extended response question thrown in here and there. These days, more often than not, students are required to respond to text on tests. That's a whole different ballgame. A horse of a different color, as they say. Now, I most of the work I do with my students is geared to get them to be able to produce strong responses to reading. 

An effective framework provides students the foundation to be able to do that. There are a few really great frameworks out there: R.A.C.E., RAP, TTQA. and the Yes, Ma'am written response strategy, which my district uses. All of these strategies have the virtually the same components. First, restate the questions, locate and cite text evidence, and write a concluding statement. That seems easy. Uhhhh..not so much. It's not so easy for elementary students, it turns out.

I've found that with some effective scaffolding, children can create powerful constructed responses to text. Of course, it takes some practice, and it doesn't happen overnight....but they get there! 

4 Steps to Powerful Constructed Response

Step 1 - Teach children how to turn the question around

Restating the question in the answer really does guide the rest of the response. Like a topic sentence, it guides the writer through the rest of the his/her content. I truly believe this is the foremost step in getting children to the final product, therefore I spend a lot of time on it. 
Give kids lots of practice doing this orally. When asked a question like What is your favorite food? Most kids just want to say, "Pizza" or "Macaroni and cheese". It takes a lot of training and practice to get them to "My favorite food is macaroni and cheese". There are a couple ways to work this into your day and give them practice opportunities.
  • Turn & talk during morning meeting or during a mini-lesson, or as a 5-minute time filler, use these simple questions to elicit proper responses.
  •  Make it a game. Divide the class into teams, and then ask individuals to respond to one of the sentences. For each correctly formulated response, the team gets a point.
  • Cut and Assemble - Give partners blank paper and questions written on sentence strips. Have them cut the question apart and build the answer using the words from the question. 

Step 2 - Discuss the Question Pre-Reading

Set the purpose for reading by looking at the question first. This activates their thinking about the topic of the question and helps keep relevant parts of the text fresh in students' minds. This will take lots of modeling and practice. Before you ask students to practice writing constructed responses, give them lots and lots of modeling. An easy way to do this frequently is to model with your read alouds.

Step 3 - Color Code

Students color code a written response.

I am a firm believer in color coding and its benefit on learning. For one thing, color coding responses to text helps children to SEE the parts that make up an effective response: The restated question, the two pieces of text evidence, and the concluding sentence.
A very good friend of mine is fond of the phrase "crayons with a purpose"...and she's right! Color affects learning. Research has shown that color affects learning by the way the brain functions and uses color to develop pattern recognition, memory, and absorbing information.
Have you noticed that many highlighting or coding tasks ask children to use red or blue? Turns out there's a good reason behind that! Studies tell us that red supports detail-oriented tasks. Blue is best used for learning tasks that are challenging.

As you are guiding your students to build effective constructed response, give them plenty of opportunities to color code their response. Start with whole group shared responses, and move to small group practice opportunities before you ask children to do this on their own.

Step 4 -  Label the Parts

It may seem like a super simple exercise, but labeling has a specific function. Labeling defines the product and its parts. Labeling improves recognition of the product. This works much like color coding: children can see the parts that make up a strong constructed response. With enough practice, they will begin to visualize the parts, which makes it much more likely that students will retain and be able to apply the knowledge later.

Step 5 - Provide Sentence Stems

Sentence starters give children the frame that they need to successfully write complete sentences using the correct vocabulary. They give children a little oomph to get started and lets them write at a level that's a little higher level than what they would on their own. Plus - with enough practice with the sentence stems, the key vocabulary and the structure of not only the sentences, but the entire format of the constructed response itself becomes more automatic for students. 

I created resources for my students that have the sentence stems right on it, but once we get to the point where most students are ready to move away from that, we create an anchor chart to which they can refer. Their FAVORITE way to grab sentence stems, though, is with this spinner. Each passage in
my Constructed Response packs have four levels of support. The page for one of those levels has a spinner right on the page that students can use. (They loooooove the spinner!). You can grab this FREE by clicking below. This is great to use under your document camera displayed on the board or screen!

The common thread through all of these steps is MODEL, MODEL, MODEL, and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I created a constructed response activity pack with four different levels of supports for my students that is designed to guide them from complete support to independence. One bundle has aaaalll kinds of animal text passages and the other is filled with Social Studies text selections. These have proven to be super effective for my students!


Grab the Cut & Create a Response and the Sentence Stem Spinner support activities for your classroom! Just enter your email below and I will send them to your inbox!

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    ShArK Week = FrEEbies


    It's here! One of my favorite weeks in summer! Why is it that we are so drawn to these amazing creatures? I mean...they're a little bit scary terrifying....& yet we're drawn to watch them. It's true, though...right? And here's the thing....if adults are fascinated by sharks, just imagine how fascinated kids are!

    I'm always excited to check out the shark-themed resources during this blog hop Luckeyfrog's Lilypad & Digital: Divide & Conquer host because I know how much my kiddos love shark anything.

    I hope your kiddos enjoy using these ar, or word skill activities in your classroom as much as mine do! In addition to the

    • Word skill poster
    • I Spy activity page where kiddos have to use magnifying lenses to find & then sort ar & or words on the recording sheet.
    • 'Cinnamon Roll' spelling page - kiddos write the word around & around to fill each cinnamon roll. (See how that gets that muscle memory working?)
    • Spiral spelling bracelets (Again...muscle memory at work!)
    Just click the pic to download from my dropbox!



    Keep on swimming! Your next stop is over at Teach123. Enjoy!


    It's Here! 5 Ways to Win at Fact Fluency


    1. Make sure kiddos understand what they're doing.
    Do kiddos already have conceptual understanding? Do they know WHY 8 + 7 is 15? Or for older kiddos: why 8 x 4 is 32? Do they know what it looks like? Have they had an opportunity to move manipulatives around and experience addition (or the other operations)? Without that conceptual knowledge, those math facts are going to take a much longer time to 'stick'. After kiddos have an understanding of operations, they're ready to tackle developing fluency.


    2. Don't rely on computer-based programs as a means to increase kiddos' math fact fluency. 

    I remember several years ago, my building purchased a site license for a math fact fluency program....we were all instructed to use it for both our fact fluency and assessment. The program seemed awesome...it was engaging, it was adaptive and moved with each child's success, and it was even instructional! Not just games and tests, it also 'taught' new facts. It was supposed to be a win-win: capitalize on kiddos' interest in online games/activities, improve fact fluency, and free up instructional time. In reality? Yeah....not so much. After some time, we all came to realize that kiddos
    just weren't making the gains that we'd hoped. They didn't even seem to be doing as well as they had before the program was implemented!

    What went wrong? Well, turns out that online programs are just not effective.  Yep. Studies show good 'ole flashcards are more effective than online programs. Who woulda thought? We use fact triangles in our building. They work the same as traditional flash cards, with the added benefit of illustrating the fact family. Knowing fact families is so powerful. Like my kiddos say, as they make a triangle with their fingers....if you know addition, you know the subtraction fact. Same for multiplication....if you know multiplication, you know division. LOVE that they can make that connection, and it's all due to the using those fact triangles.



    3. Sustained practice? Think again.
    Short, sporadic practice sessions are the way to go! Kiddos cannot focus on practicing math facts for more than 4-5 minutes. After that, you've lost them. You can do multiple practice sessions a day, but keep them short. 3-4 minutes is good!


    4. A Little Goes a Long Way 
    Resist the urge to jump in with both feet and give kiddos ALL.THE.FACTS. Be very deliberate and intentional in the way and the progression that facts are introduced for kiddos to master. In this case, a little goes a long way. The goal is automaticity. If kiddos have too many facts to learn at one time, they naturally fall back on  calculating the answer rather than working toward
    memorization. Only after the first set of facts have been mastered should new ones be added.

    At the same time, those facts that have been mastered need to stay in the rotation. A couple things are going on here: kiddos are still practicing the known facts (we don't want to get rusty!), they're experiencing a level of success as they encounter the new facts in the rotation, and they're becoming faster and faster with those known facts!

    The fact tests I use in my classroom are set up to maximize this.....we start out with +1's for example, and after a kiddo has mastered those facts we move on to the +0's. But guess what? Those +1's still show up! And it continues on like that all the way through. At the end, when we're on that +9's test, facts from any of the other tests pop up.

    5. Track Progress & Celebrate Success 
    Tracking learning and progress toward goals is empowering! Studies show that when kiddos have that opportunity, they build intrinsic motivation, and perform better. In my classroom, we graph progress on each level. They can see how close they are, and how much closer they've gotten with each attempt....it's exciting to see how their graph inches up (or speeds!) toward to top of that graph!

    We also chart progress toward mastering ALL of the facts.....+0's through +10's. I think this piece may be even more powerful than tracking progress for each level of the facts.

    Each kiddo gets an addition chart. The first thing we do is talk about facts and the inverses. So....really, we only need to learn HALF of the facts on the chart! We also learn that when we pass a level, +4's for instance, we get to shade in both the horizontal +4's and the vertical +4's. Wow! That chart gets shaded in pretty fast! It's nice to actually see that you only have so many facts left.....rather than 'all.the.rest.of.the.facts' looming out there somewhere which we still have to master.

    And don't forget to celebrate!! As I hand back tests before they go off to graph and chart, I announce those who have gotten 100% on their tests. Everyone claps and cheers...the best way to celebrate ever! Of course, we all know that setting a date by which we need to have mastered facts adds an element of urgency. My class works together to set a date by which we'll attempt to have all the facts mastered. I plan a movie for that day complete with snacks....which really makes the celebration more exciting!

    Classroom Decor SNEAK PEEK

    First, I'd like to give a great big 
    Congratulations!
    to Debbie C.! You are the winner of the Upcycle Style Inspire U Prize Pack, Debbie! I know you're going to LOVE it!

    Who wants an EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK of all the brand new COMING SOON products Creative Teaching Press has in store for us?
    You don't have to be a ninja! Just click that Creative Teaching Press image below & you'll be magically transported to an exclusive landing page where you can see it all!

    You can actually pre-order the coming soon items & be one of the first to get your products when they come in!

    And....by the way? If you're disappointed about not winning the prize pack Debbie won, you've got another chance! Over on that exclusive landing page, there's another giveaway!! FIVE teachers are going to win a $50 CTP gift certificate!! Wahoo!

    I.am.in.love with so much of the new stuff! A few highlights of my faves:

    Magnetic Decor Strips?!? Stop.the.presses!! These are goin to be so great on magnetic white boards! I mean....SO much better than the bulletin board strips I stuck magnets on the back of!

     There's also a whole new line of content area mini bulletin board sets. This Life Cycle of a Sunflower set is just part of the 48-piece Life Cycles set! I am super impressed with the quality! And there are more sets: Plants, Earth, Moon, & Stars, Human Body, Math Talk, and Depth of Knowledge!

    I know it's way too early to be thinking October & Halloween....but can we just talk about how aDORable this Pumpkin Patch Bulletin Board set is?! I am in LOVE!!


    There's so much more than this to love that's coming soon! Take a sneak peek and see for yourself! And remember to enter the giveaway! 


    Rethinking Classroom Design

    It's that time of year again......time to start thinking about next year. If you're like me, you're already thinking about what you want to tweak for next year - whether that's schedule, instructional strategies, or classroom environment. Classroom design is an important consideration. Consider that kiddos spend the greatest portion of the day in your classroom, and you realize just how important it is!

    Playful Patches 6" Designer Cut Outs
    Your classroom should be a safe haven. Kiddos need to feel welcome and respected, and it ought to be a calming (rather than overly stimulating) environment. I like to make the room as homey as possible so that we're all comfortable. I put a lot of thought into color schemes as well as furniture arrangement when I'm planning my classroom. Colors and textures are as important as the anchor charts that we hang on our walls.

    I'm very pleased to be an Exclusive Blogger for Creative Teaching Press. Their products really fit the bill when it comes to effective classroom decor. They have so many wonderful options! The past few years, I've love my Dots on Turquoise...but I'm ready for a change. Enter Upcycle Style! Oh my gosh, y'all! I.am.in.love!! Have you seen this collection yet? I promise, you'll love it too! (CTP really makes choosing hard....you'll love them all!) I love the rustic, down home feel of the collection. The wood grain and metals, the distressed wood, and the use of textiles like denim, quilts, and needlework just all come together to make a beautiful collection!

    And, speaking of down home feel.....check out this matching flameless candle from Zazzle!! Oh my goodness! Can you picture a few of these on your desk or on top of a bookshelf or two? And it even has a TIMER! Love!! Make sure you check out the items over at Zazzle....they match many of the other collections, as well!

    Beside candles, you can also find pillows, dry erase boards, stickers, magnetic frames, iPad mini covers, and lots more goodies for classrooms. You can even get matching shoes, earrings, or ties!!
    Just a few of the Inspire U posters paired with the Denim Border and Rustic Medallions Border.
    Pair Upcycle Style with the Inspire U collection? LOVE!! My school has really been focusing on growth mindset this year along with standards based growth model report cards, & I really appreciate how the Inspire U posters fit in with those!! I mean seriously? Perfect! I truly cannot wait to set up my classroom with the addition of these posters....they fit in so well with what we tell them about growth mindset! (Ya gotta love it when everything comes together like that!)


    Pssst! Guess what!! CTP is letting me giveaway the whole Upcycle Style Inspire U Pack!! Yep! Everything you see up above: all of the posters (including Dream It. Believe It. Achieve It.), the patch cut outs, AND the two borders in the graphic!! Make sure you enter down in the rafflecopter widget! (US & Canada residents only, please).
    And wait until you see these! Exclusive....COMING SOON!



    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Make sure you hop over to visit my friend Cassie & see what she's working on!