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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Constructed Response

Instruction of reading in intermediate grades has changed since we were in school. Heck, it's changed in the last few years! As my student teacher prepares to teach reading, the first thing I need to explain is the constructed response.

What is a constructed response? Simply said, it's a longer response to an open-ended question. A multitude of Common Core State Standards require constructed responses. Let's take a look at some literature standards at the fourth grade level. (Related Indiana State Academic Standards are noted in parentheses.)

  • RL.4.1 (IN 4.RL.2.1) - Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • RL.4.2 (IN 4.RL.2.2) - Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
  • RL.4.3 (IN 4.RL.2.3) - Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
  • RL.4.6 (IN 4.RL.3.2) - Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.
  • RL.4.9 (IN 4.RL.4.2) - Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
Responses for the standards listed above can be written using a single paragraph (although RL.4.9 is much more complex). In my class, we generally use a sandwich analogy to help students remember essential parts.

Beginning the year with RL.4.1 makes sense. In this unit, students learn how to answer explaining and inferring questions. This example relates to the beginning of The Wind in the Willows.

Direct instruction on answering explaining and inferring questions took one class period. The next day, we answered a question together. Then, over the course of the next three days, students answered questions independently. Each day we shared our answers and discussed the criteria for an excellent response. The sandwich analogy came up time and time again. Finally, they were ready to read and answer a question to be taken as an assessment grade. They were on their way to conquering the constructed response.

Over the next few months, students learned to construct different types of responses. Each time, we moved through a complete learning cycle over a period of five to seven days: direct instruction with modeling, guided practice, independent practice, and assessment.

For RL.4.3, students scanned the text for a character's words and actions. Next, they determined his/her prevalent characteristic(s) to write a topic sentence. Notice that it's a slight variation of their first experience with constructing responses.

Learning to determine and defend point of view (RL.4.6) required knowledge of first- and third-person pronouns, as well as the ability to discriminate if the use of "I" or "me" was in reference to the narrator or simply used when one character was speaking. Instead of a one-word answer ("first" or "third"), students learned to use the sandwich structure to provide the story's perspective in the topic sentence, provide evidence from the text in the middle, then wrap it up with a conclusion. Again, a slight variation on the strategies they had used before.

Finding a theme (RL.4.2) was more difficult. Students had to find three connected details. Then they asked themselves, "What message is the author sending to me with these connected details?" This allowed them to determine a theme, which was expressed in the topic sentence. The evidence followed, then the paragraph was wrapped up with a conclusion. The sandwich analogy didn't make sense for some students during this unit, so we switched to a chain, like this.

Comparing and contrasting folklore (RL.4.9) proved to be the most difficult of all. Students analyzed and compared four elements of each story: characters, setting, plot, and theme. They then determined whether the stories were more alike or different and wrote a topic sentence. The similarities and differences were written as evidence. Our class is still working on mastery of this standard.

So, there you have it: the constructed response. Today we've explored how students can construct responses to literature. Surprise! They must also learn to construct responses to informational text. But that's a discussion for another day.