Regardless of how one might feel about the PARCC assessments, they are a reality many of us must confront. To this end, I have some suggestions for how to prepare students efficiently and effectively for the PARCC ELA writing tasks.
“How should we pace the work?” many teachers ask. Test prep should not involve cramming or panic. Nor should it be the primary focus of one’s curriculum, 24/7. Like poetry or short stories, tests are a genre. Students need to be taught how to “read” that genre, and then move on. It does not take forever, for example, to teach students 1) how and why to use process of elimination or 2) how and why to go back into the text to read the sentences before and after “vocabulary in context” words whose meanings they must ascertain.
Preparing students for the PARCC writing tasks requires more time than those quick reminders, but it can be baked into normal reading and writing instruction. English teachers typically begin the year with a focus on narrative reading and writing, then move into literary analysis writing. So it makes sense for them to own the corresponding PARCC writing tasks, as well. But English teachers should not have to carry everything. I strongly recommend that social studies and science teachers own the Research Simulation Task because it mimics the kind of reading and document-based question writing that students typically do in their classes.
Here are some fundamentals for planning units and lessons:
- Begin with close reading of texts in the genre. Identify key elements of the genre and analyze texts. The beauty of this approach is that we would do it even if PARCC did not exist.
With the PARCC Narrative Writing Task in mind, read stories/narratives and pull out key elements such as characters, plot, conflict, setting, etc. This work is also useful for the Literary Analysis Task, which involves not one but two pieces of literature. Model how to analyze and explain what the writer is trying to convey. Here are some questions to consider:
- How does the plot work?
- How does the writer reveal characters’ motivations?
- Why did the writer choose this particular setting?
- What messages/themes is the writer trying to convey? [For tips, see my TLC Blog post on “How to Infer Themes.”]
For the Research Simulation Task, students should analyze nonfiction texts using social studies and science content that you planned to teach anyway. Begin with strategies for analyzing ONE text before you ask students to compare or synthesize multiple texts.
Here are some scaffolding steps to keep in mind:
- Review Argument vs. Evidence Steps 1-3 to ensure that students can identify the argument(s) in texts and can explain how evidence and explanation are used to support that argument.
|Step 1. Given a list of statements, distinguish the arguments from examples of evidence.|
|Step 2. Given a list of statements, identify arguments and their relevant evidence.|
|Step 3. Given arguments, support them with your own relevant evidence and explanation.|
- Students must also master Step 4 in order to write their own paragraphs and essays in which they build arguments and support them with robust, relevant evidence and explanation.
|Step 4. Given questions, answer them with arguments and relevant evidence and explanation.|
- For more information on Argument vs. Evidence Steps 1-6, see my MW Blog on “Teaching Argument vs. Evidence.” Also, see this one: “Help Student Writers Find the Best Evidence.”
- Be sure to teach students how to skim so that they can efficiently locate appropriate evidence. For tips, see my MW Blog on “Skimming: The Overlooked Close Reading Skill.”
- Students write UNTIMED examples of the genre. Use the writing process (brainstorm/outline, draft, revise, edit, publish) to create narratives/stories or paragraphs/essays, depending on which genre you are studying. Note: These assignments do not have to be text-responsive. In other words, students can write narratives/stories they have made up out of their heads; they do not have to “extend the story” or “rewrite the story from another point of view” the way they do on the PARCC tests.
- Read and analyze PARCC-released models of the genre you’ve been studying and evaluate them with the PARCC Writing Rubric.
- Discuss: What does it take to write effective responses on the PARCC?
- Analyze the writing prompt(s) and practice unpacking prompts. Students who cannot turn the prompt into a question might answer the wrong question, resulting in a zero. For more information on unpacking the Literary Analysis and Research Writing prompts, click HERE.
- Practice pre-writing steps and UNTIMED writing of PARCC tasks. For more advice on how to teach all three genres of PARCC writing, see my TLC Blog “PARCC Prep Writing Task Care Packages.”
- Practice TIMED (and typed) writing of PARCC-like tasks.
For materials that support the creation of such tasks, click HERE.
Bottom line: The main difference between PARCC writing and our “regular” writing assignments is that the PARCC writing is TIMED. So let’s do what we normally do, but also make sure that students are comfortable with what the PARCC expects.