Sheltering Open Response Questions

My math department analyzed some MCAS data a few weeks ago and found some interesting information. There are 6 open response questions on the 10th grade math MCAS test: each worth 4 points for a total of 24 points. Every student who scored Advanced or Proficient in our district earned at least 15 points on the open response questions. On the other hand, students who scored needs improvement earned an average of 11 points, and students who failed earned an average of only 3 points. Out of 24. We have some work to do, especially with our English Language Learners.

My student smart goal for the year is to work with my ELLs on open response questions. This is my first attempt at sheltering an MCAS open response question:

Word Doc Version. PDF Version.

The original MCAS question can be found here. You will notice that I didn’t change any of the words, word order, or questions. This is important to me when sheltering an assignment. This question is text-heavy and quite a challenge for my students, but I want to keep the integrity of the question as much as possible. while providing scaffolding. The goal is to slowly remove the scaffolding as the year goes on.

I bold, underline, or italicize key math words and try to do this consistently on assignments. I also gave students highlighters when we worked on this so they could practice identifying they parts they thought were most important. And they don’t just highlight the words that I have made stand out. They notice a lot. Also, many of the directions say to show OR explain how you found your answer, but I want students to practice both.

Before starting, my co-teacher and I pre-taught the word “represents” because it was a word we didn’t think they would know. She made a couple slides showing these two images and we talked about them:

As a class, we read the intro and first question. We paused to talk about: “expression”; “minimum”; and “enough.” Students then worked on simplifying Leo’s expression on their own, and we came back together for the explaining. The sentence frames have been a big hit so far. Many of my students don’t know where to start, or are just plain scared to start because they don’t want to say/write something wrong. The frames have been providing them with an invaluable structure, and most are willing to attempt to complete the sentence when it’s already started.

We continued this pattern throughout the question: we read together, students were given independent work time, and finally we came back together to wrap up each piece. In all, this question took about one hour to complete, divided into two 30-minute chunks. At the end, our students were genuinely surprised and happy to see how much work and writing they had completed. This is definitely something my co-teacher and I will continue to work on with our students, and when possible, start to remove the guidelines. Please let me know if you have any other tricks for us to try!


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