Day 17: Following Instructions

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.


I am a terrible baker and builder of IKEA furniture. I hate reading instructions.

My students operate in the same way. Reading questions and following directions is the last thing they want to do. And it’s no wonder.

We spend the majority of our reading and writing time thinking about and reading stories and articles. We share out thoughts in discussion and in writing. We spend a small percentage of our time reading questions. What reader does? So it’s no wonder my students pay little attention to the questions. All of their energy goes into the text.

But we test in six days.

I accept testing, knowing that it’s two days in one hundred and eighty days. I hope that each student wakes up healthy, well rested and in the right frame of mind. But what I can’t accept is if a student falls short because she doesn’t attend to the question.

So we’re focusing on the work of a test taker: how to read and answer questions. It is a legitimate skill. And it is the biggest bugaboo for my kiddos. They could have understood the text. They could have excellent writing skills, but if they don’t spend enough time on the question, if they don’t break it down and recheck, they won’t show one bit of all of their ability.  I can’t stand that.

I know it’s boring. That’s why I hate baking, constructing furniture, and test prep.
But at the end of the day, I’d like the brownies not to stick to the pan, the shelves to be straight and my students to show what they know. So we are pushing ourselves to follow directions.

plan your answer chartWe are breaking down questions into measurable pieces and creating checklists out of questions. The chart on the right has been the ticket to my students’ big aha. And the genesis of it was TCRWP’s work on test prep.

We are practicing the difference between narrative, information, and opinion writing, knowing a student could write an amazing story, but if the prompt asked for an opinion, they’d get nothing for their work,   Their skills would not be recognized because they didn’t read the directions.

Our work is coming into its own.
They understand they need to show what they know. They understand they need to dissect questions. These days, they can’t wait to write. The days fly by.

In six days for two days, they will do their best. In the meantime, we will practice by writing and reading AND following directions.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here.