Independent reading and strategies for comprehension help students raise their reading TAKS scores.
Students in Texas take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills each year from third through 12th grade. The content areas tested differ each year, but students must take the reading and math TAKS every year. The best ways to help students raise their reading TAKS scores is to have them read every day and to teach them to think critically about what they are reading. Students should also be taught use literary elements to discuss reading selections, use context clues to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words and use strategies on the assessments to better comprehend what they have read and to answer test questions accurately.
1. Have students read independently for at least 15 minutes each day throughout the school year to improve their reading speed and comprehension. Allow students to select their own books, but ensure that the books are on their reading level. Have students keep reader’s notebooks in which they write questions and predictions, new vocabulary words and their general thoughts about what they are reading. Encourage students to choose books in various genres, such as realistic and historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, mystery, biography and informational texts.
2. Use movies to teach literary elements. Students sometimes have a hard time grasping concepts such as setting, plot, internal conflict and other literary terms. Introduce these topics in class and provide students with graphic organizers or foldables containing terms, definitions and examples. Then show a movie to help students practice discussing literary terms. For example, the film “Train Your Dragon” is useful for discussing internal conflict, as the protagonist struggles between pleasing his father and following his heart.
3. Teach the reading test as a genre. Teach students read a selection that is part of an assessment and how this reading differs from reading other types of texts. Have students underline important information in the selection and write key words or a sentence next to each paragraph describing the main topic of the paragraph. Stress the importance of rereading for better understanding. Older students can write summaries rather than key words. Reading practice helps students find the information they need to answer test questions.
4. Teach students to understand what the test questions are asking. Many students struggle with comprehending the questions on an assessment. Give students sample questions and help them determine what type of answer the question requires. Then provide a strategy for answering each kind of question. For example, a question that asks what the main topic of a paragraph is requires an answer that discusses the paragraph as a whole, not just a detail in the paragraph.
5. Teach students use context clues to determine the meanings of unfamiliar words. Context clues include synonyms, antonyms, definitions, explanations or examples that are found in or around the sentence containing the unknown word. Teach students strategies for finding these context clues and for using them to answer questions about vocabulary words found on the assessment. For example: “The devastation from the hurricane was inescapable. Everywhere Mia looked, she saw houses destroyed from wind or still sitting in knee-deep water from the flooding.” The second sentence gives an explanation as a context clue for the word “inescapable” in the first sentence.
6. Give students many opportunities to practice before the test day. Study guides and released TAKS tests from previous school years can be found on the Texas Education Agency web site, http://www.tea.state.tx.us/. Work through the study guide with students, practice reading assessment selections using strategies and critical thinking skills, talk through the different kinds of questions and practice choosing the best answer by eliminating answer choices. Practice assessments can help reduce test anxiety and increase students’ confidence in their ability to be successful on the TAKS.