Meet Ms. Laura Shanteler, a 6th grade reading teacher currently residing in New Orleans, LA. We sit down with Ms. Shanteler to discuss her teaching background and also get some insight into the switch to the common core, preparing her students for standardized tests, and how you can help your student or child improve their test score, literacy, and critical thinking skills.
First things first, where are you from?
Can you give us some background on your teaching career so far?
I have taught several different subjects since I began teaching. When I taught at Carver Elementary school in Indianola, MS, I taught 3rd and 4th grade, all subjects. I also served at the English/Language Arts (ELA) Chair for the fourth grade my third year teaching at Carver. I moved to New Orleans, LA where I just finished teaching 6th grade reading at KIPP New Orleans Leadership Academy.
Let’s talk a bit about standardized tests. What tests do your students have to pass?
I teach the iLEAP, which is Louisiana’s standardized state test, but I have also taught the MCT2, which is Mississippi’s version of the same exam.
What is on this test?
Many of the state standardized tests use the same type of organization, but the questions look different in order to match the state standards. For most state tests (including those I have administered to my students) it is a combination of both reading and writing skills. On the writing section of the exam, students are normally tested on their knowledge of spelling, grammar, writing conventions, and their ability to respond to text in writing (an actual written response to a question after reading a related text). For the reading portion, students are tested on their knowledge of vocabulary and their ability to read and comprehend various types of texts. Some tests, like Louisiana’s iLEAP, also include a section where students must use various types of research materials to answer questions.
What is one thing you recommend having teachers do to help their students pass this test? What makes a huge difference in their scores?
1) Test taking is a skill in itself and something students need to practice.
A standardized reading test can seem intimidating when trying to plan lessons and units that are aligned to the questions. We often get caught up in trying to teach students how to navigate test questions rather than to master the material. I have battled with this many times as a reading teacher! Something we have had to keep in mind is that test taking isa skill in itself, and so we treat it as such. My students went through a test prep unit right before we took the state test, but we focused on helping them develop solid comprehension skills and strategies. So, I made sure that everything I did in my classroom was just as challenging as what the students would see on the test, using the same type of questioning or wording they would encounter. We just weaved it into what we were doing in class. My number ONE focus, however, was helping my kids become strong, independent readers. If we weren’t able to grow their reading levels to allow them to be successful, no amount of test prep would help. A student’s ability to develop as a critical thinker makes a significant difference in how they perform on standardized tests. If you help them build solid strategies to navigate through texts and help them to strategically think through tough questions that build off of skills you teach them throughout the year, they will undoubtedly be much more successful on these types of tests.
2) Practice your vocabulary. The more words you know, the better you will do on the test.
The other thing to consider is the student’s knowledge of grade-level appropriate vocabulary. If the students are unfamiliar with either the test vocabulary or just vocabulary words in general, it can hinder their ability to read and understand a text. There are many different ways to reinforce students’ vocabulary, it’s just important that you do it.
What should parents make sure they are doing with their students to insure their kids are crushing these tests?
1) Study vocabulary with your kids.
Vocabulary is a great thing to practice at home with your kids. Teachers will provide vocabulary that goes along with the text or unit they are working on at the time. You can practice vocabulary with your kids by having them work with the words in many different ways.
2) Ask your kids to walk you through their thought process when working out problems.
When you talk about critical thinking, it can seem like a foreign concept. I know a lot of parents who would ask me how to help build these types of skills at home, even if they weren’t entirely familiar with the content their child was learning at the time (for any subject). I learned very quickly when I started teaching that the best way to figure out if a student had a good grasp of material was to simply as “why?” If you are working at home with your kids, have them explain what they’re doing and stop to ask them why they are making certain decisions as they go. Not only will this help YOU become more familiar with the material (and give you a good idea of what your child is struggling with), but it will challenge your students to really think through what they are working on at the time. Have students talk you through how they solve a math problem, or ask them to tell you about what they’re reading in their books. Ask to read anything they’re writing for their class and share your opinions with them. Make your kids proud to bring home what they’re working on and comfortable enough to tell you when they don’t understand. Keep open communication with your child’s teacher so they can give you specific tips or suggestions that would best benefit your child. It seems a little informal, but with everyone using technology every day, it can be something as easy as setting up a weekly e-mail check-in with your child’s teacher.
Looking for vocabulary studying materials, as Ms. Laura recommended? Take a look at our vocabulary study materials here! We have Tenth Grade vocabulary, Ninth Grade vocabulary, and Third Grade vocabulary.