Explicitly Teaching Constructed Responses

Explicit teaching is vital when introducing new concepts for students - regardless of their age. When I heard students would be required to write constructed responses (CRs) on the End of Grade (EOG) assessment, I went into "Sherlock" mode... What is a constructed response (exactly)? What is it that I should ensure students should know and be able to do with them? How do I teach them how to write a constructed response? How can I teach this new way of answering questions so that my advanced students are challenged, yet my ELL and Special Needs students can be successful?

These are some of the many questions I began asking myself and what I decided to dig deeper into LAST summer (2014). There are two things I considered during this quest:

  • Question: How can I ensure my advanced students are still being challenged? 
  • Answer: When I develop constructed response questions (CRQs), I need to make certain I am asking Depth of Knowledge (DOK) questions at levels 3 & 4. This will ensure rigor. 
  • Question: How can I aid my ELL and Special Needs students and still include rigor?
  • Answer: I will continue to develop CRQs on all levels to ensure higher order thinking is taking place, but I will teach a strategy to aid these students in writing their responses. 
What did I find in my search to assist in both of the questions above?

Advanced Students: I read more about Webb's DOK and from what I read at the links listed below, I developed some questioning stems that I use during group discussions (to practice verbally answering CRQs). Furthermore, I used the questioning stems when developing Exit Tickets, other formative assessments, etc. 


ELL/Special Needs Students: I was overjoyed when I stumbled across (cannot recall the site where I first saw this) the RACE/ACE strategy. This strategy provides a step-by-step process and acronym that aids students in each step of writing the constructed response. Students are able to thoroughly construct answers and provide details with this strategy! After discovering this, I developed a set of posters and such as reminders for students. 

Now that I have the basics mentioned, how did I explicitly teach students how to write these CRs?

Model, model, model, practice, practice, practice... These are the KEY words when I think of explicitly teaching - and of course, be sure you are clear and precise. 

NOTE: Throughout this process, careful attention is always placed on the type of questions asked based upon the content area being taught - whether answering CRQs about a novel, SS time period, science/math concept, etc. Also, always have a mixture of DOK Levels 1-4 questions to reach all learners. 

Before STEP 1: Close Read the Question - This step is CRITICAL! DO NOT SKIP! Students cannot answer a question if they have NO clue what they are answering. Students need to close read the question to identify WHAT they are looking for in the text, HOW they need to answer the question, and to ensure they answer ALL parts. Many assessment questions will have multiple parts. For example, "What was the main reason the North thought it would win the Civil War?
What was the main reason the South thought it would win the Civil War?"

They need to circle/highlight words that they need to look for in the text and they need to be sure to mark the ENTIRE question. See my markings above.

STEP 1: Restating a question - Students need to be shown and need to practice how to restate the given question. When doing so, show them that they do not have to reinvent the wheel; they can simply use the words from the question!! Focus on omitting the question-type words. 

CRQ Explain the significance of the event described in Chapter 3. Provide details to support your answer. 
Restated response One significance from the event in Chapter three is... 

CRQ Why does Bobby decide to take another path?
Restated response Bobby decides to take another path because... 

Again, it is important for you to model this often and allow them to practice often (no matter what grade level - do not assume they just know). Once you feel they are ready to move on...

STEP 2: Answer question by citing evidence - After restating the question, students will now begin answering the question. When answering, they must be able to find evidence from the text (or if inferring also include what they know) in order to thoroughly answer the question. Simply telling the answer is unacceptable. They must be able to back it up in some way. How?

They will need to dig deep into the text (close read) to find 2 or more pieces of evidence that answer the question. Again, MODEL this for students and have them practice.

Once they find their evidence, they do not need to always quote exactly - it is a great time to talk about plagiarism and teach them how to put what they read into their own words - paraphrase. Model how to do a little of both, which will enhance their response. 

Additionally, be PREPARED for students to answer CRQs about paired texts (texts that are read together, because they are related in some way). Students will need to be prepared to provide evidence from BOTH passages. Again, (yes, monotonous) model this for students and have them practice!

STEP 3: Explaining their thinking - Once students have restated and answered using evidence from the text, it is time to explain their thinking and tell why the evidence best answers the question. This is their time to put all the pieces together and show they really understand what is being asked. I have found that this step is the most difficult and will take the most modeling and practice. "Just because it is in the text" or "I found this on page 2, paragraph three" does not cut it. Have them think about: Why does this piece of evidence BEST answer the question over choosing something else? That is what they are explaining. They will have to ask this for each piece of evidence they are planning to use. Depending on the question, they may need more or less evidence. Many questions may specify: "Provide 3 examples of how the character showed courage." If it doesn't, at least 2 should be sufficient.  

STEP 4: Sentence Parts - As an ELA teacher, I ALWAYS teach that the most powerful tool for a writer is the ability to reread what they write. Students need to reread to make sure their piece is clear, answers the question, and has all parts listed above. Once they have verified these, they can check for spelling, grammar, etc. ;) The content is the MOST important first! They may lose content focusing on this throughout. Just for reading, you can click here for a FREE rubric for you and your students to use as a checklist. 

Now it is YOUR turn. You may already have a wonderful technique that works well. If not, try this out - it will take practice and patience. Best of luck!


Posted on June 11, 2015

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