This month I have featured many ideas for differentiating assessments and most of those ideas involve giving students options during the assessment process (e.g., tell me or show me), differentiating the goals or expected outcomes, or simply providing a range of assessment tools in the classroom. Today’s clever idea from the Cross Circular Corner is a departure from these solutions in that focuses on preparing students to tackle a common assessment tool: the timed essay.
The savvy English teacher who posted this idea came up with the idea of giving students short periods of simply explore topics they might be assigned, but in a way that mimicked some of the conditions of testing (e.g., having a time limit). Kim gives her students a prompt and then sets a timer for five minutes or so and lets them plan their essay using any tools they find useful (e.g., mind maps, lists, outlines). Following the exercise, students share their planning tools with each other and Kim shares her ideas for planning an essay using the prompt. I love that she shares her own thoughts as some students will learn best from the options presented by peers and others will need reminders from the teacher about helpful brainstorming strategies.
The students don’t actually write the essay in these sessions, the entire time is spent teaching and learning about a writing skill that is too often left behind. This sort of prep is so smart; I would bet that it not only helps students create stronger essays, but stay calmer and be more mindful during other segments of testing as well.