Help students focus on what they understand, rather that what they don’t.
DR. ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Center Director, CPET
Over 40 teachers from across New York State have enrolled in CPET’s online course, Rocking the Regents, a 20 CTLE credit professional learning course offered through the Teachers College Office of Digital Learning. The course takes an up close and personal look at the New York State English Regents exam, and digs into what makes the test so difficult for students across the state.
Even though the exam is over 200 years old, the English Regents continues to be a gatekeeper for students when it comes to graduation and college admissions. Last year alone, over 48,000 students were unable to pass the exam, despite having three chances to pass the test each year.
What is it that makes the test so hard?
Rocking the Regents is broken into three main categories: Understanding the Exam, Understanding the Data, and Understanding our Students. With these three focal points, we’re exploring the in-depth requirements for content knowledge, reading, and writing skills. How can students read over 4,000 words and write two substantial essays in three hours? How can students craft an argument on demand, or draw attention to an author’s craft? Throughout the course, we’re exploring the demands of the English Regents, as well as high-leverage strategies that can help teachers and students meet the expectations of the test.
BIG IDEA BRACKETS
One of our favorite strategies is called Big Idea Brackets. The English Regents requires that students perform a “close reading” of a minimum of seven high-level, complex texts in addition to answering questions and writing essays. The reading portion can be a major stumbling block for students who struggle to read at the college level, or who have a difficult time retaining what they’ve read. “Big Idea Brackets” is a strategy that allows students to take key notes while reading, and helps them to focus on what they understand, rather that what they don’t.
The strategy is very simple: when students read to the end of a paragraph, they create a bracket in the margin, and write down the main idea of the paragraph in the simplest way possible. The goal is to help students wade through all of the details of the paragraph to find the central idea or main point of the text. This helps them maintain comprehension from paragraph to paragraph, maintain focus and interest in the passage, and develop confidence in their own understanding. Whether moving on to multiple choice questions, or an essay, students now have a blueprint of the text that they can use to find information and make connections to other texts, if necessary. It takes no additional time or materials, so this is a great strategy for students to use as they prepare for the test, as well as on the day of the exam.
Student Genovia R. Lindo brought this strategy to her classroom, and shared, “After students read such lengthy passages, they are sometimes unable to recall many of the events or character interactions. Big Idea Brackets helped my students hone in on the specific events which took place, and allowed them to better answer questions.”