Subjective Reader/Objective Teacher

This semester, students in READ 6329.01 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By J. Zambrano

Becoming aware of the variety of forms to test a child subjectively, I come to the realization that we fail our students dramatically when it comes to analyzing a reading story or article. As educators, we push for our students to select books that they have a personal interest in. Through this process the student will be reading for enjoyment rather than for measurement. Through discussion, we then probe for the child to analyze the story by making connections either in their personal life or using their inference skills. I have come to the understanding that students truly enjoy giving their opinions about how they feel in the reading. Granted, we still have to help shape and mold so they can think at a deeper level. For example, give student the awareness expressing at a higher level phrase such as “Anne has an amazing way of taking care of her pets” rather than “Anne is good with pets.” The element of discussion is so enriching and fundamental in a young reader. The element of observing gives the teacher the opportunity to take mental notes of the student. Giving the child the chance to develop their point of views is priceless when we test the child subjectively. Spending time with the student and getting to know them gives us educators an advantage of fully seeing what the child is capable of doing. Such assessments range from KidWatching to creating a rubric. Yes, these types of assessments require much time from the teacher.

However, standardized testing is also an assessment tool that is needed when you are a student. Unfortunately, it is overpowering the other assessments that can help a student become a better reader. It amazes me how polar opposites KidWatching is compared to a standardized test. We focus much attention to the percentage and what it means in terms of pass that we overlook the student holistically. In doing an assessment such as KidWatching, I have been able to help my students zone in on what he or she can do to be a successful reader.

We want to create a well rounded student that will be able to analyze real world readings. Allowing them to be subjective to the world around them, but when we continue to test them on standardized test that forces a teacher to be objective, we are sending our students crossed signals. We cannot continue to stifle their judgment through a multiple choice process. Otherwise, we are going to create students that will always second guess their judgment and rely on someone to give them the right or wrong answer. By means of doing other forms of assessments, we can help the child expand their thought process.

Taking a Closer Look at Standardized Tests

This semester, students in READ 6329.10 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By A. Guzman

“The scores need to improve” these seem to be the words that overpower my staff meetings. It seems like everything is about the numbers. However, my question is the following: How do we expect students to pass this infamous test when we as teachers do not prepare them adequately?

The book A Teacher’s Guide to Standardized Reading Tests does an incredibly good job in depicting this problem. I will be concentrating on chapter 5, Rethinking Test Preparation. This does not mean that the other chapters are not as important. Although I am still not finished reading this book I highly recommended to any teacher out there who still feels apprehensive towards their adversary,  the standardized test.  Let’s go  back to the question posed in the beginning about teaching students how to approach this test. Teachers assume that students should know how to take these tests for they have been taking them for a couple of years  depending on the grade level we teach. Wrong!!!

According to authors of the book mentioned earlier “performing well on reading test involves reading, yes, but it also involves a whole host of other skills and attitudes.” The teacher’s pedagogy plays an important role in teaching these skills. If the student is found in  a progressive classroom where he/she is  immersed in rich literature rather than passage after passage the student might need an extra push just because the passages are nowhere near close to a good novel such as The Outsiders and the purpose for reading is different.

As teachers we need to analyze our test preparation methods. How are we preparing our students for the test? In chapter five the authors suggest to look critically at the test preparation we are putting into practice.  One might think, “well my students have enough practice already with the benchmarks”. According to this chapter, test practice is not the same as test preparation. That was a misconception I had. I believed giving my students a passage a week they were getting prepared for the test.


There are so many factors to take into consideration when preparing our students for these standardized tests.  The first step I did to better help my students is take a released standardized test. I wanted to see how it felt to sit down and read six different passages that changed genres from left and right. It was not a good feeling.

By taking a closer look at standardized tests and questioning our preparation we will be better able to equip our students with the types of rocks they need to tackle Goliath the test.

Tests Tests and…Real Reading Too?

This semester, students in READ 6329.10 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

by Gabriel J. Garza

At this point in the semester my veins are tightening. My eyes are overwhelmed by bar graphs, charts, lists and pies of data that pile up and make me queasy. A giant snowball has formed above TEA hill and my name is etched in it, I know it. Worst of all, we’re still months away from state accountability, yet the sense of urgency is enough to make a veteran teacher cringe. Next thing you know we start reaching for practice assessments and standardized item practice, trying to connect the tests to the literary concepts we want students to know, most of us clueless about the stark differences between standardized tests and real reading, and how both can be achieved amidst the storm.

The need for kids to perform is a given, I understand. The need for kids to have real authentic reading experiences should be a given too, but in many schools the need for improved test performance outweighs the former. Why is this? Simple. Good scores equate money. On the flipside of this increased focus on standardized testing, good scores do not necessarily equate personal growth as a reader, nor can standardized tests sufficiently assess a student’s breadth of knowledge, or experiences with various works of literature. But shouldn’t we focus on getting them ready for the test since that is what determines success in the end? My answer to this would be yes. However, there should be a time to teach test preparation, apart from regular instruction.

Since standardized tests are in very different formats compared to real literature, they must be taught as a separate form. The purpose for reading differs as well—the sole purpose of reading a standardized reading exam is to select the correct answers in a given amount of time using a set of non-related, non-student-selected passages. Couldn’t get more inauthentic than that. Real reading is just the opposite. Despite the sad truth of what we are giving our students as an ultimate form of assessment, there are ways to strategize around these tests so kids can perform well, so they can return to real reading afterward. Kids can be taught to preview the questions first, to know the clues in the questions before reading the selection, for example. Teachers can employ these and other kinds of strategies once a week or until students are better able to master the genre of standardized tests. Then, real reading can continue—making connections with various texts, creating projects with peers, performing parts of stories to show understanding, for example.

I make sure that my students are aware of the differences between real reading and test reading. They understand, and now so do I, that knowing how to master the test form is essential, if that is what the current context of assessment demands. Meanwhile, real reading must continue.

Read to Talk

This semester, students in READ 6329.10 were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By M.R. Graham

We’ve been studying the stark differences between “real” reading and the reading students encounter on standardized tests. The former is exactly what the adjective suggests – real. It is the text students find in fiction, school books, comics, web articles, instruction manuals, menus, and instant messages. They interact with it in real situations, take meaning from it, and pass it back and forth among their peers. It is relevant to their lives. The latter is artificial, limited, used in enforced isolation, devoid of social context, used only in one situation far removed from “real” life. It is meaningless to the students, cannot be used or shared, and so they take no meaning from it.

And yet the latter is used to gauge students’ abilities with the former.

I hadn’t really thought about that before, but I should have. I always understood, even during my own time in grade school, that there were some things I read and retained and some things that went in one ear and out the other, and that the difference was that one mattered to me, and the other didn’t. I’ve always known that interesting text is easier to remember.

That’s not the whole of it, though. Even if I read something on a test that I find interesting, there is no reason for me to remember it, because I am strictly forbidden from discussing it. Why remember something you’ll never be allowed to use again? And why pay attention in the first place to something you don’t need or want to remember?

To me, the most important difference between “real” reading and test reading is the social aspect. All real reading is done with the knowledge that it can be used again later. You can talk about it with friends or with teachers. You can show off your knowledge or ask questions about things you didn’t understand. You can laugh about a joke you picked up. You can place an order from a menu or compare prices or make absolutely sure you can safely take one more Tylenol for that headache you get every time standardized testing comes up. Those are reasons to pay attention. “Pick the best answer from among the following” is not.

I recently spoke with one of my many, many cousins. I had heard that he was doing very poorly in school, despite the fact that everyone knows he is brilliant, and his reading scores especially were on the decline. In fact, he was close to being labeled as struggling. He didn’t seem to be doing anything important, just mucking around on his iPad, so I felt justified in interrupting to ask what was going on. He asked me to come back later, because he was almost at a stopping point. He was reading The Brothers Karamazov. For fun. And later, he wanted to talk about it.

Reading Authentic Literature

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Rogelio Rios

As a teacher, I want to make certain that each and every student that enters into my classroom, leaves being a life long reader.  Reading authentic literature not only fosters critical thinking skills but also instills a love for reading.  Only authentic literature can create an ambiance of excitement and interest in my students that workbooks, worksheets and even the basal can’t do.

Due to federal mandates intended to raise the quality and level of literacy instruction, now we have so many standards to teach before administering the state mandated reading test. Many of us worry about not having enough time to teach all the standards that will be assessed on the test so that teaching has become covering test taking skills, strategies and standards. I don’t feel that this is helping students achieve their academic potential. The focus should be on the content and meaning of reading authentic literature and not on skills and strategies.

With so many skills to cover before administering the state mandated reading test, many educators would say that due to time constraints teaching from a worksheet or workbooks is convenient. These workbooks come with questions to go with the reading selection. Teaching students skills in isolation doesn’t transfer into knowledge that they can retrieve later. Reading in isolated skills from workbooks is unrelated to their lives and experiences. When a child is working on a worksheet they’re not internalizing what they’re learning. Besides, not all the students are the same, It’s unlikely that a worksheet will help each child meet their academic goals.  We are making students be test takers instead of life long readers.

I wish magic sticks would exist so that I could make assessments that are making students become disengaged from school disappear and replace them with authentic ways to assess the students.  Testing students in ways that don’t involve multiple choice answers or filling a paper with strategies before they can answer the questions. Students who read for fun have higher reading scores than students who rarely read for enjoyment. Children who are engaged in authentic literature are actively discussing plots and characters and finding ways to relate this to their own lives. They are going home and discussing books with their family. These are the type of student we want to have in our classrooms.  Our school districts, along with our state, and federal government need to be aware that there needs to be a change in our school system.

Again, authentic literature fosters not only the critical thinking skills that our students need, but also a love for reading that is not found on worksheets, workbooks and basal. By reading authentic literature students will have many favorite books that they will want to read over and over again.

Reading Beyond the STAAR

By readingintheborderlands

The UTPA College of Education is beginning a new professional development series! We’ll have three lectures a year over topics we hope will interest the local educational community. The first one will be by yours truly! I’ll be talking about how we can create and support readers who are capable of far more than just passing a standardized test.

Prof Dev Series Sign-April 27, 2013

Little Things We Overlook

This semester students in READ 6306 each wrote a post for this blog. Their post needed to relate to the course topic in some way.

By Mary Guerra

When we hear the words “standardized state tests” we have a tendency to roll our eyes or become sick to our stomach.  In reading “A teachers guide to standardized reading tests” by Lucy Calkins, I learned a lot of small tricks that sometimes we think are common sense but in reality make a whole difference.

 In preparing for “the day”, educators do all sorts of things to set the tone for the day but they don’t realize how much they throw off the students.  Calkin states that test day is already a “very bad day” for students, so don’t make it worse for them.  By this she means not to change the setting of the room from one day to the next or send them off to an unfamiliar place.  Teachers need to have students familiar with the setting, if you are planning on rearranging desk on day of test, make sure students are familiar with it so that they don’t feel like they are walking into an unfamiliar place.

Calkin also talks about taking the responsibility to easing our student’s anxieties about the text.  Every school does something different the day before the test.  We need to show students how to be confident and serious about standardized tests, but at the same time not pressure them so much and cheer them on.

In this book, Lucy Calkins, gives several tips to prepare before and after “the test”.  One of the tips she says is usually a trap for students is when students pick an answer that relates to their life.  “Use the text, not your life, to pick your answer” (Calkin, 1998).  This is something teachers tend to forget to tell students and students are caught up in wanting to finish the test that whatever sounds familiar is what they will pick.  Sometimes it is important to refer to your life but students need to know how to read the questions and refer back to the passages.

 One of the major tips Calkins gives teachers is about the test reports.  Depending on the scores is how our community and administrators will look at us, but we need to be knowledgeable on what the scores have to say and who or what they are being compared to.  Just because some districts do not take the time to show us how to read the test reports doesn’t mean you cant take the initiative to learn how to read the reports.  Teachers need to be knowledgeable of every detail so that when they are asked questions by parents or administrators they are able to defend themselves.  Whether scores went up or down, teachers need to be knowledgeable of how their students did and if there were any gains.

I highly recommend this book for educators to read to help ease the jitters and query feeling about standardized test.  Lucy Calkins has many scenarios that we can relate to and is humorous about many of them.  After reading this book you will have an ease about standardized test and have a different view towards them.


A Read Aloud Saves the Day!

By Lilly

It was testing day.  Only eight-thirty in the morning, and all I could see were the blue dividers barricading my students to a long, wasteful day of learning.  They were taking their Math District Benchmark Test to see how much they learned throughout the first and second six weeks.  What would be in store for me- the teacher? -An exhausting day of walking around the room making sure students were working and not falling asleep during the test.  I couldn’t help to admit that I held on to a water bottle and some tick tacks for dear life so that I wouldn’t fall asleep either.  Slowly, the minute hand moved on the clock on the wall.  At ten-thirty, I allowed all of my students to stretch, gave them some mints, and time to go to the bathroom to wash their faces.  Still, only fifteen minutes after our break, their eyes began to droop and their faces became weary again.  I knew another dose of sugar would not save them. 

I pulled Crazy Loco by David Rice from my backpack.  It is a collection of short stories written about Weslaco in South Texas.  I began to read out loud.  Instantly, life was brought back into their tiny faces.  Some student smiled, others had their eyes locked on my expressive face peering above their dividers while I read from the middle of the room.  All had stopped testing and I continued read, line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, stopping only to dramatically pause for effect and join them to laugh.  All of my students were engaged by the life these fictional, but relatable characters were bringing into our stagnant day.  I continued to read, aware that I could perhaps be breaking school rules by taking time away from testing, but it seemed a perfect time for some authentic literature. 

After completing the first chapter, my students automatically began to discuss the events in the story.  What book is that? Who are these characters?  Was this book made here in the valley?  Why is it called Crazy Loco?  It was their innate nature to begin to respond to the literature freely. 

Should schools continue wasting time on testing when real learning could be taking place?  My read aloud saved the day, but how many school days will be wasted before anything changes?