Problems students encounter with questions demanding a written response

Most third graders now need to write paragraph responses to questions on ELA, math, science and social studies tests. This is one of the upgrades in skills brought by the Common Core curriculum. Previously, third graders might have been tested using only multiple choice questions or questions requiring a word or a phrase for an answer. But a whole paragraph written in grammatically correct sentences and with evidence from the text? This is new.

And it’s not easy. I’ve worked with a few students on these short answer responses requiring the inclusion of evidence. Here’s what happens.

• Students write an answer but they forget to include the evidence.
• Students quote the evidence, sometimes word for word, but fail to connect it to the question asked or to the main idea.
• Students provide only one example of evidence when the question calls for two or three.
• Students make up evidence, not realizing they must stick to the evidence in the text.
• Students provide irrelevant evidence.
• Students respond with un-asked-for information. If the directions ask the student to conclude, she might summarize. If the directions ask the student to describe, she might identify.
• Students do not stick to the point; they go off on tangents.
• Students write what they know even though that has not been asked for.
• Students write using incomplete or illogical thoughts.
• Students might talk around a topic without ever responding directly to the question asked.
• Students leave out information which is clear to them even though it might not be clear to a reader.
• Students tire or become distracted before they are done. They might forget to finish or give up.

Are there solutions? Yes, and we’ll talk about them in coming blogs.

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