On the Road: 11 Surefire Strategies to Motivate Students for State Tests & A Critique of the Testing Machine

At the school where I used to teach, preparation for our state’s high-stakes test, the TCAP, was an all hands on deck five-week bootcamp like adventure. Our entire school ascribed to “What’s Your Why?” as the central question we used to motivate students. Every teacher had an individualized buy-in plan that included rewards, public/private data trackers for students, and frequent communication with parents. Every student was asked on a daily basis what’s your why, and the answer to this question was related back to TCAP success. Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.23.40 PM

Last year, my students were voraciously reading Divergent, which became a central theme in my motivational strategy. I gave each student a tracker where they measured their weekly progress on mixed-skill quizzes. I called parents every Friday afternoon when a student worked hard all week and performed on a mixed-skill quiz. I integrated the importance of writing in every field and every part of life throughout my lessons. I used data from our Mock TCAP to unit plan, and I used mastery from the Mixed Skill Quizzes to plan reteaches the following week. I wrote lessons that had question stems aligned to the state test and distractors designed based on what the sample questions included.

cogs-in-a-machineI used the same strategy this year. TCAP Prep time is the toughest part of the year for students and teachers. It is a 6-week, non-stop race. Getting students invested in their performance on the test is crucial, as are aligned questions, and annotation and elimination strategies dominate an ELA state test that relies on better/best answer choices. This year, my test preparation machine began to feel seamless; I had the necessary component parts to make all the cogs and wheels turn.

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We Become Better Writers by Becoming Better People

On Writing in a Classroom:

Rhetoric, or the rhetorical moves an author uses to convey or argue a message, are the pinnacle of a middle school writing classroom.

In a classroom, it goes something like this: teacher asks student to explain or argue a position, student constructs a thesis, develops key points, pulls evidence from a text to support the position, and makes connections between the evidence, the key points, and the thesis.

A student who understands the nuances of persuasion recognizes the opposing argument, either discrediting it or arguing it’s invalid. The most persuasive student invokes the rhetorical triangle composed of three appeals to human sensibilities, as devised by Aristotle. This particularly adept middle school student knows how to pull at the reader’s emotional compass with pathos, using anecdotes that display the macro point at a micro level. These students know how to invoke logos, or credible facts and statistics to solidify the foundation of the argument. These students know how to use ethos to question the audience’s values, to tap into the morals of the readers. The rhetoric of the argument is the foundation that holds up the thesis, if and only if, said twelve-year-old was able to construct a valid argument. The ability to construct an argument is contingent on strong reading comprehension, engagement with the articles, vocabulary, and understanding of specificity in language and ideology, and pure syntactic writing ability.

Then, there is the secondary role of grammar. A teacher’s attention is instantly diverted by the mélange of proper nouns left in the world of lower case with all the other commoners, u as texting speak, and commas resting as comma splices.

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Debunking the 7th Grade ELA TCAP


TCAP preparation season is quickly approaching for Tennessee educators. As a 7th grade Language Arts teacher, I know it can be maddening to search the DOE website to find Item Samplers, Practice Tests, and standards because of the influx of Common Core standards.



I’ve created a page that houses all TCAP related items produced by the state from the last few years. Some of the resources posted here are no longer available on the state’s website because of Common Core implementation. While the majority of these resources are targeted for 7th graders, there are also tests I’ve pulled from 8th grade that I’ve used in the past as extra practice for students.

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