I'm teaching very differently than I have in the past. In previous years we focused specifically on that one story and the skills specifically related to that story. We did the worksheets provided by the book, and sadly - I was totally teaching to the test. I wasn't teaching my kids to be better readers. I was teaching my kids to be successful test takers, and that needs to change.
Our strategy this week was evaluating, and our skill was understanding fact and opinion. Okay, first of all they picked a really stupid story for evaluating: it's boring, the kids (especially the boys) can't connect to it, and it doesn't inspire any thinking. That's not just my opinion - those are things the kids have expressed during the last two years. So we talked about evaluating a story (which in and of itself is such a contrived skill) and when we might use it. But then I put evaluating into a context every kid can understand: picking something for your Christmas list (yes, all my kids celebrate Christmas). We talked about how you can use both data and your own ideas (facts and opinions) to evaluate something and discussed the questions that you might ask yourself when you're evaluating. It was an awesome discussion, and the kids were able to share other places and times where they or their parents might evaluate things in their real life. Somebody even chimed in with, "OH!!! Then you can use this stuff to persuade your parents to get it for you!" GOOSEBUMPS!
The fun part came in an extra part that I added to the assessment. Once they finished the selection test, each student had to visit our class wiki and check out the evaluation page. There were two links to click on, and the scenario that I set was that I had money to buy something for our classroom but I could only buy one thing. The links went to a Wii and an iPad. After looking at the links the students needs to create a new post in the discussion about which I should buy for our class. I reminded them of the list of questions we generated and added the stipulation that they needed to include at least one fact and two opinions in their evaluation. The kids were so excited to do this, and I've been really impressed with the responses I've read so far.
Even with all the positives that I've observed and read I'm still scared. I feel very strongly that what I'm doing is going to prepare my kids for the their futures. But will that transfer to "the test"? There's a pile of papers in my backpack that will answer that question. Right now, I'm just too afraid to look.