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5 Steps to Strong Constructed Response

5 steps to Strong Constructed Responses
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. 
Cut & Assemble Turn the Question AroundGive 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

Color Code a Constructed Response
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. 

Sentence Stem Spinner
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!

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