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Somebody Needs You

Reading Strategies Improve
Student Test Performance

This strategy for improving student achievement on state tests is one that Larry Bell includes in the UNRAAVEL Reading Strategy Mnemonic section of his Closing the Achievement Gap Workshop -- Part 1. See the sidebar for more information about this workshop and others.

One of the reasons so many low-achieving and at-promise students do poorly on state assessment tests is that they lack the reading skills they need to attack those tests. It is essential to provide all students -- especially low achievers -- with structured systems to help them read and interpret test passages so they can correctly answer questions about them. We need to train students in those skills that will help them succeed on tests.

At-promise students, especially, are easily tripped up by things that are nebulous. Providing those students concrete, tangible tools and step-by-step processes they can work with seems to help them tremendously.

As I have traveled the world, I have found that many of the best teachers seem to have developed systems of tools and tricks to help their students attack reading passages on standardized tests. Those tools help students because they give students a starting point. They help students organize and focus on reading passages that are long and often dull.

[content block] The impact of reading abilities on test scores is the reason I created the UNRAAVEL system. Each letter in the UNRAAVEL mnemonic stands for a different strategy that teachers might teach students to use. All of the strategies are aimed at improving at-promise students performance on achievement tests. The one key strategy that I would like to share here is associated with the extra A in UNRAAVEL. That A stands for Are key words circled? The strategy associated with that letter teaches the students the importance of reading closely by having them identify and circle key words in a passage as they read.

In my workshop I provide participants with a reading passage, and I give them 39 seconds to skim the passage and circle all the important words. We discuss the words that participants circle and we find that they usually circle words that might appear in bold, italic, or capital type. They also circle words that have commas on either side of them, words that are repeated frequently in the text, and words that follow terms such as such as, therefore, secondly, and consequently. Words such as those, the participants suggest, are often the answer to something.

Doing this exercise helps teachers see the kinds of words they might train their students to look for in reading passages. That way, students are often finding answers even before they finish reading an entire passage.

It is absolutely critical to teach students skills such as circling key words, because these tools give kids confidence in attacking test passages. Students who have these kinds of tools in their trick bags are sure to earn higher test scores than students who do not have them.

Having a structured process such as UNRAAVEL also helps teachers. If all the teachers in your school are teaching a structured way to read and interpret, and youre having trouble teaching that system to some students, you can work with colleagues to talk through strategies that are helpful in equipping students with those tools. In addition, if everyone on the teaching team is on the same page and teaching the same system or set of skills, students have a whole group of role models. Having a system and a language used by all teachers and students also enables students to point out exactly where they might be having difficulty processing a reading passage.

If you want to improve test scores in your school, one surefire way to do that is to use a system -- whether it is the UNRAAVEL system that I use or another one. Put a system in place, a system that everybody uses, and then set aside 7 to 10 minutes to practice using that systems tools and tricks every day. Perhaps students UNRAAVEL an article they bring in from the newspaper. Maybe they UNRAAVEL a chapter in their textbooks. Maybe they UNRAAVEL reading passages from previous years tests. Whatever the reading passage, setting aside time to on a daily basis to practice the skills that are part of your system is the key to success and improved achievement.

My friends, somebody needs you.
Larry Bell