Make constructed response social! Let’s face it, writing paragraph after paragraph causes student burnout. Why? Kids are social animals. Above all, they love working together. Take a look at three ways you can make constructed response more collaborative – and fun.
Constructed Response Burnout
Let’s check in on our favorite fourth grade teacher.
At lunchtime, Ms. Sneed sat with her head in her hands. The stack of papers under her elbows told a sad tale. Her kids wouldn’t answer in complete paragraphs. “Oh no,” thought Ms. Sneed. “How will I ever get them ready for testing?”
She sighed, pushed back her chair, and headed to the teachers’ lounge. While munching on her sandwich, she asked her teacher friends for advice.
“My kids hate writing paragraphs too,” Mr. Frank agreed. “So I let them work in groups. Funny, their answers improve when I let them collaborate.”
Mrs. Cordova chimed in: “Last week, the technology trainer showed me how kids can type together. Each small group shares a Google Doc. This way, they can type from their own desks. Furthermore, they can communicate with comments.”
“In my opinion, kids need a break,” added Mr. Keene. “Some days, we just discuss the questions. Once we agree on the response, I write it for them. Surprisingly, these modeling sessions build skills more than writing alone.”
“Wow, you’ve given me some food for thought. Thank you,” Ms. Sneed said.
Constructed Response Social Strategy #1: Work in Groups
The next day, Ms. Sneed addressed her class. “Today, you won’t have to write the answer yourself.” Everyone cheered.
“Instead, you will work in groups.”
“Oh no,” mumbled a girl in the front row. “I’ll get stuck with kids that just mess around. Then I’ll have to do all the work.”
“I heard that,” Ms. Sneed replied. “And I also already thought about it. To keep everyone accountable, each group member will have a specific task.”
After the students read their story, they gathered in groups. With just a little commotion about who would do which task, they began answering the question.
As Ms. Sneed circulated, she caught a little of what they said.
“Do you really think that evidence supports the topic sentence we agreed on?” one student asked his groupmate.
“Hey, you didn’t paraphrase! And you didn’t cite either,” said another.
“Wow, they’re really helping each other,” Ms. Sneed whispered to herself. A little smile nudged the corners of her mouth upward.
Constructed Response Social Strategy #2: Type Together
The following week, Ms. Sneed enlisted the support of the tech trainer. Since her students had Gmail accounts, they would answer questions together in small groups.
“Now that we’ve read the text,” said Ms. Sneed, “we’re ready to answer a question. You all know our tech trainer, Mr. Krull. He will guide you in constructing a response together – using your Chromebooks.” The class cheered.
“Okay, everybody, here’s how it will work,” said Mr. Krull. “I will assign each of you to a group of three. However, you will not sit together. You will work virtually – from your own desks. The first name I call in the group will be the person who creates the Google Doc. You will share the Doc with your two group members, as well as Ms. Sneed. That way, she can join in and support you.”
Once everyone established in their groups, Ms. Sneed put the question on the board. At first, no one was sure what to do. “Feel free to type what you’re thinking directly on the Doc,” prompted Ms. Sneed. After that, the kids got down to work.
The room becomes unusually silent. “This is weird,” Ms. Sneed commented to Mr. Krull. “Weird, but good!”
Mr. Krull circulated around the room, showing students how to comment on one another’s work. Ms. Sneed sat at her desk and opened all of the group files. One at a time, she clicked on a tab, joined the discussion, and gave a little guidance or encouragement.
As the groups finished, Ms. Sneed reflected on the activity. Sure, kids sometimes got off track or had trouble sharing responsibility. But that happens with all group work. The most amazing part of the activity, however, was joining each group’s thought process. Ms. Sneed leaned back in her chair. “Yep, collaborative metacognition. Wow.”
Constructed Response Social Strategy #3: Lean on the Teacher
On Friday, Ms. Sneed decided to give her students a break. “Today,” she said, “I will construct the response instead of you.”
“Yay!” her students shouted.
“But you will help me.”
After they read the text, Ms. Sneed guided the discussion. To fine-tune their skills, she used specific questioning.
As they answered the question together, kids began to relax and participate. “Their brains are engaged, but their fingers get a break,” thought Ms. Sneed. “And that’s okay.”
Alternatives to Constructed Response
Kids need practice constructing responses. But it doesn’t have to be boring. Try some alternatives! For example, have kids roll constructed response cubes, build burgers, hold friendly competitions, and work together. Everyone – including the teacher – will be happier.
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.