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How to Prep for FSA: Valuable Tips for 5th Grade ELA
Soon testing will be here, and teachers want to make sure they have covered as many of the standards as possible. The 5th grade ELA standards are a pretty big step up in reading expectations. The good news is that teachers and reading coaches can focuses on a few specific skills that will really help prepare students for the FSA tests.  This blog post will break down the reading and language arts standards and how they are tested on the FSA.

This blog post may also be beneficial for teachers in other states as well. If your state takes the AIR exam, FSA was modeled on that test. In addition our state standards are 99% identical to the Common Core state standards.

What Does FSA Cover in 5th Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These are a great tool for parents and teachers, but they do take a lot of time to analyze and break down.

As always, students are expected to be reading and spelling on grade level. Judging from the practice tests, the reading passages will be about one and a half pages, single spaced, 14 - 16 sized font. Overall, students are expected to draw inferences from their reading. Supporting answers with text evidence is not a skill new to fifth grade students, but it is something that they should be doing regularly. Students should come to fifth grade with some ability in using text -based evidence. However, the skill should be increased to providing reasoning for implicit answers. Teachers need to push students to answer inference-based questions and have students explain what part of the text led them to their response.

Students should be prepared to have 2-3 texts for prompts. They should be able to integrate information and compare characters, setting, organization, etc. of multiple texts. The great majority of reading standards ask students to compare two or more ideas/traits and/or at least two texts. Two texts may be a written text and an audio or multimedia presentation. In general, these standards are preparing students for the future. As students are expected to research and write reports, they will need to be able to use multiple sources and combined the information into one report. That is really what these standards are preparing students to do.  To practice these skills, teachers could do mini-units focused on one topic or theme, as well as research projects.

Fifth grade vocabulary is really just building upon what they already know. The categories of terms are basically the same as fourth grade, but fifth graders should be exposed to even more figurative language. Students are also expected to use context clues to determine the meaning of words and phrases.

The grammar expectations again just build upon what they already know.  Each year students focus on a different verb tense - in fifth grade they add the perfect verb tenses. They are also expected to be able to select the appropriate tense for their writing and write in one tense. Students should already know a lot about conjunctions, but now they should learn correlative conjunctions (ex. rather/than, either/or). The fifth grade standards also emphasize the various uses for commas.

The four sections of FSA ELA are weighted nearly the same.
  • Key Ideas and Details - 15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure - 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing - 15 - 25%
How to Prep for FSA: Valuable Tips for 4th Grade ELA
This test prep season, prepare smarter not harder for FSA! In this post, I will unpack the 4th grade FSA English Language Arts (ELA) test specifications and analyze the 4th grade Florida standards. This will help both teachers and parents make sure their students are ready to take the state tests.

This blog post may also be beneficial for teachers in other states as well. If your state takes the AIR exam, FSA was modeled on that test. In addition our state standards are 99% identical to the Common Core state standards.

What Does FSA Cover in 4th Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These are a great tool for parents and teachers, but they do take a lot of time to analyze and break down.

Of course, students are expected to be working on reading and spelling at the fourth grade reading level. Judging from the practice tests, the reading passages will be about one and a half pages, single spaced, 14 - 16 sized font. In addition, most of the skills are integrated into reading. For example, editing tasks are now done right in a paragraph. Some of the reading questions have students select a sentence from 1 - 2 paragraphs taken from the text. If teachers are not beginning to practice in this format, I recommend highly that they begin using practice activities like this so students are familiar with the testing styles.

The four sections of FSA ELA are weighted nearly the same.
  • Key Ideas and Details - 15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure - 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing - 15 - 25%
Preparing for the Florida Standards Assessments?  This post unpacks the FSA test specifications for 3rd Grade ELA.
As Florida teachers begin prepping for testing season, time is frequently an issue. The Florida Standards Assessments are rigorous tests, and students need be familiar with both the question styles and testing formats. Both teachers and parents can benefit from understanding what students are expected to do on the exams. In this blog post, I am going to focus on 3rd grade English Language Arts (ELA). By the end of the post, you will know more about the FSA and how to prepare students for the exam.

The History of the FSA

Florida Standards are relatively new. The state adopted the Common Core State Standards a few years ago, then quickly switched to Florida Standards. In reality, the new standards are nearly identical to those pf the Common Core. The purpose of this post is not to debate the CCSS, but to help teachers and parents to understand the expectations.

FSA exams were created by the makers of the AIR test, which Colorado had used. FSA exams have higher expectations than the old FCAT tests, and their style is different. In addition, many of the exams are given on the computer, which is a new skill for a lot of students.

What Does FSA Cover in 3rd Grade ELA?

The Florida Assessments Portal has the test item specifications available for the public. These documents are a great tool to analyze what students are really expected to know by the end of the year. The problem with them is that they are so long! I spent two days printing, reading, and matching the specifications to the standards. It isn't an easy chore when you are pressed for time.

In third grade, the test coordinates with the Florida Standards. Students are expected to read at a third grade level. Passages on the exams will be 3 - 4 paragraphs long and be between 100 - 200 words in length. In addition, almost all skills are now integrated into the reading passages. For example, grammar questions are written as an editing activity.  Instead of showing a sentence in isolation, students have to read a paragraph and correct the grammar error that is in the paragraph. (The error is noted - students don't have to find it.) Teachers should begin to focus more integrating grammar skills within their reading and writing lessons.

The four sections of the FSA of weighted pretty close together in 3rd grade.
  • Key Ideas and Details  15 - 25%
  • Craft and Structure 25 - 35%
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 20 - 30%
  • Language and Editing 15 - 25%
So, what skills should teachers really focus on in third grade? From examining the test information and grade level standards, there are specific skills that students are expected to know.
Learn about A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning and how to use it to teach literary elements.  Freebie included in the post.
Now that Netflix has made A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket into a TV series, the books are making a comeback. Of course, they were wildly popular when they were first published!  The Bad Beginning, the first book in the series, is one of my very favorite books to teach in my classes. My students always loved these books. Although people have told me they use them with 4th grade, I would not use them below 5th unless the students were very high readers. There is a lot of tragedy in the books, as well as a lot of inferences that I am not sure younger students would necessarily catch.

Summary of The Bad Beginning

This is the book that introduces the readers to the Baudelaire family and the woe that follows them throughout the series. The Baudelaires are very talented children. Violet is a brilliant planner and loves to create inventions. Klaus is an avid reader and is clearly extremely intelligent.  Sunny is a baby, but sadly no one really understands her. She, too, has a special talent that the reader finds out later in the book.

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are orphaned when their parents die in a mysterious fire. They are sent to live with Count Olaf - a nearby relative the orphans claim their parents never mentioned. Alas, their predicament becomes even worse when they actually meet Olaf.  His house is dilapidated, and he treats the children very poorly. Eventually, the children figure out that he is really just after the fortune their parents left in a trust. However, they cannot access the trust until they turn 18 - but that doesn't stop Olaf from scheming. The children need to use their special abilities to figure out his plan and stop him.

Teaching The Bad Beginning: Mood, Tone & Vocabulary

This is an exceptional book to teach the literary elements mood and tone. Mood and tone are often difficult for students to understand. With all the tragedy these characters face, there is a lot of mood that could be discussed. I have always found tone to be a little trickier to teach, but these books excel at tone - the narrator just comes out and tells you the books will be sad, that you shouldn't read it because of the tragedy, etc. (That is another great literary device you could discuss, too.) If your students are struggling with mood vs. tone, The Bad Beginning would be a great book for you.

This book is also rich in vocabulary. If you are trying to help your students expand their vocabulary, there are many words to pick in this series! The way the Snicket incorporates the new words is brilliant. He wrote the book in a way that is accessible to readers.  Throughout the story, a high-end word is used and then immediately explained by the narrator.

The best way to decide if A Series of Unfortunate Events is a good fit for your class is to read The Bad Beginning. But I am warning you, once you start you will want to read the whole series!
Learn about A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning and how to use it to teach literary elements.  Freebie included in the post.
If you are interested in teaching The Bad Beginning to your class, I have a FREEBIE with resources for the first chapter in my TPT Store.
Learn how to teach logic puzzles to improve students' close reading skills.
One of my favorite things in school was logic puzzles. I know many people dislike them, but they are the ultimate close reading activity. I used them all them time with my students to help improve their reading skills. To solve a logic problem, you have to closely examine each clue and consider what knowledge you learn from it.  What student can't benefit from that?

Why Teach Logic Puzzles?

Logic puzzles really strengthen students' ability to read between the lines. Close reading is a skill that is used across subjects.
  • When reading a novel, in order to to truly understand a character's motivations the reader has to synthesize everything that is stated about the character and fill in what isn't said.
  • In a math word problem, students need to pick out which information is important and how to apply it.  
  • While writing an essay in social studies or science, students need to comprehend their research, analyze it, and apply it to their topic or thesis.  
Learning to really zero in and what is written is important for every student in every class. It is a life skill.

When to Teach Logic Puzzles

One of the nice things about logic puzzles is that they are short. Not at first mind you. Until students really understand the strategies used to solved the logic puzzles you will need to make time for them. After the first few puzzles, you will have a few students that completely understand them and can mentor other students.  Once most students are independent you can use them in those filler moments - morning work, after recess, after pack up while waiting for the bus, etc.  Eventually students just enjoy doing them or even compete to see who can solve them first.

How to Teach Logic Puzzles

 If you are not a natural puzzler, it is important that you practice doing puzzles before trying to teach students.  It also helps to use logic puzzles meant for the age group you are teaching.

Logic puzzles really need modeling. Model, model, model. To begin students on logic puzzles, make sure everyone has a puzzle, highlighters/markers, and a pencil.  I use the highlighters to help showcase what I am doing.  I will switch colors on each step so students can follow along more easily.

When teaching logic puzzles, always start with a puzzle with a grid answer sheet.  There are more advanced puzzle that require the solver to create a diagram.  These are more complicated in general, and students will get frustrated.

Once everyone is ready, use your projector to show your page to the class.  I basically teach the first one as a think aloud.  Always start with the introduction.  Students always want to skip it, but it sets up the reader to understand what they are trying to figure out.  For my example, I am using a logic puzzle from Lindsay Perro.  In the introduction, I learned that I need to figure out which child did which activity at which time.  So I am trying to connect three pieces of information: name, activity, and time.
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