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.


16 thoughts on “Day 17: Following Instructions

    • The test is painful. But it would be worse if they had no idea what to do. Sounds like you don’t have to deal with this. Another thing to love about Canada.

  1. I think that if approaching test prep as you do, it’s a kind of text you read in a certain way, it is helpful and adds to the student repertoire of reading skills. Also looking at testing as one piece of assessment data in a big picture about the student learning, it wouldn’t be so bad either. Having too much emphasis on the test results is the main cause of stress.

  2. I am also conflicted about test prep – but I think, as you do, that it’s better for our kids to know what they will face, and to feel prepared. Read the directions! That seems to be the hardest task 🙂

  3. Teaching a logical approach is the best way forward, I guess. Having a plan for a piece of writing for an invisible audience … what else can you do?

  4. Julieanne,
    Being prepared to avoid panic is important. This makes sense. “In six days for two days, they will do their best. In the meantime, we will practice by writing and reading AND following directions.”

    Testing has become a “genre” but it does NOT need to overpower the REAL work of reading and writing. Your common sense approach will be good for your students! ❤

  5. Your students will be more attentive to the question after you have directed their focus. Have you shown them a model answer done by someone who read the question thoroughly and one who didn’t. It may be a funny way to accentuate the problem. I had a student once write a wonderful narrative answer except it did not come close to answering the prompt. Such a tough thing for them to learn.

  6. Test prep, ugh! I like the focus you are taking with your kids. What are you being asked to do to prove you are a reader and writer? Have kids note the verbs in the directions. Then when they go back to check they can assess if they used the verb correctly. If they have worked all year and listened to you, they will be ready.

  7. I think you nailed the key to the purpose of test prep in our instructional planning: “So we’re focusing on the work of a test taker: how to read and answer questions. It is a legitimate skill.” Yes, test taking is a skill. Your approach is so appropriate.

  8. We didn’t do any of this kind of testing at my school, but I did do a short ‘test prep’ class for my 8th graders leaving for high school where they would need it! Although it doesn’t seem like it, these few skills you’re teaching will broaden their approach to some things. Good for you Julieanne for adding to their toolbox but not making a huge deal of it.

  9. Test prep is really so much about reading the question carefully and answering the question asked, isn’t it? I have been working on the same thing—use a part of the question in your answer. My students know how, and can do it, but opt to not do it with any consistency. It’s such an easy way to make your answer more relevant.

  10. Test prep takes the joy our of learning if we make don’t add the sparkle so students can own their learning. I like to call it making students test ready so they can show the gems of their learning. YOu have led your students down a great path and I am sure you have prepared them to be showcase their learning on paper, Julieanne. Good luck to all of your children.

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