Teacher’s Lounge Blog

Learn more about teacher preparation, test tips, online learning, professional development, and a variety of other valuable teacher topics.

How More Teachers Can Pass Licensing Exams the First Time

May 28th, 2019 | Comments Off on How More Teachers Can Pass Licensing Exams the First Time | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Although prospective teachers work diligently in their teacher prep programs, more still needs to be done to prepare them for their first teaching assignment in a real-life classroom of their own. A National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) report published earlier this year states that over half of elementary teacher candidates do not pass licensing tests due to insufficient preparation in college coursework.

Expanding the teacher workforce becomes even more challenging when teachers want to teach but are unable to attain a position because of poor exam scores. The same report found that only 46% of individuals pass licensing tests with African American candidates passing at 38%. This leads to gaps in teacher diversification across the country, as well as a shortage of qualified educators.

Most of these teacher candidates have significant holes in content knowledge that contribute to poor performance on standard licensing tests. NCTQ reports that about ¾ of the undergraduate teaching programs in the United States do not cover the amount of mathematical knowledge required for elementary teachers, while 1/10 do not adequately contain enough English basics.

Individuals enrolled in university teacher training programs should take courses that meet four attributes to ensure that they are adequately prepared not only to graduate but pass a licensing exam:

  1. Relevant to current teaching practices and topics found in elementary classrooms.
  2. Feasibly taught in one or two semesters rather than touching only on the basics in a broader course.
  3. Offer an assortment of content that teachers may need to know.
  4. Focus on the content and how to teach it.

Although teacher candidates can take courses that lack one or more of the above characteristics and they can be beneficial, these classes may not fit into an already heavy course schedule. Core knowledge is of primary importance and concern.

Many times, institutions of higher learning already offer relevant courses, so they don’t need to create new ones. Instead, teacher education programs should adjust their parameters to include general education classes to satisfy program requirements and help to ensure that future teachers can pass licensing exams anywhere in the country and be confident for the classroom.

Click here for more information on PrepForward’s teacher certification preparation courses.

MTEL Comm & Lit – Passing the Summary Exercise with Fidelity

April 25th, 2019 | Comments Off on MTEL Comm & Lit – Passing the Summary Exercise with Fidelity | Certification Prep, Literacy Certification, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses, Writing Certification

Passing the Summary Exercise: Fidelity

Communication and Literacy Skills Test

On the MTEL Communication and Literacy Skills Test, candidates are asked to complete a summary exercise.  In this article, I will share the most common errors I see and tips for making a solid score on the fidelity performance characteristic. 

A summary with fidelity gives a fair picture of the original. Common synonyms of fidelity are trustworthiness, dependability, and faithfulness. Your ability to give a representation that is loyal to the original will be evaluated in this trait. How can you do that?

You succinctly restate the main ideas and supporting details in your own words, omitting less relevant material so that your summary is considerably shorter than the original.

Steps to follow:

  • Understand the task. This summary is a “true” summary. Your task is to recap the original, preserving the content, tone, order, relationships, emphasis, and point of view. You accurately retell the article in your own words. Summarizing is a skill we practice from childhood. We use summary techniques to answer questions such as “What did you do at school today?” and “What’s that book about?” We don’t retell every event or every detail; we tell the most important ideas in our own words.
  • Read the original. Read with understanding, highlighting the main ideas and supporting points and formulating in your mind the overarching message.
  • Retell the original. In your words, retell the article, omitting the support and examples that may add interest but are not critical to the main idea. The power of your summary rests in your ability to discern what to include, what to leave out, and how to package the key details and ideas.
  • Check word choice, grammar, and mechanics. More about that in a later blog, but clean writing using precise vocabulary is always an asset.

 

Errors to avoid

  • Avoid starting with an author/title/main idea statement. This is not your seventh-grade book report. Instead, begin your summary with your rewording of the first main idea from the original. The original does not begin with a statement such as, “Ryan Heimbach’s article, ‘Deception,’ emphasizes…” When you give an accurate representation of the original, you should not begin with this type statement.
  • Avoid tagging the author. Tagging the author is a common strategy for a summary. I would caution you to use this strategy sparingly if at all. A “true” summary reflects only the content of the original. The original does not say, “In his article, Heimbach stated…” Statements like this burn words without adding content.
  • Avoid spinning. It is not your job to argue, interpret, analyze, or “give your spin” on the text. You merely give a concise picture. That’s why the test evaluators use the term, fidelity—be fair to the intent of the original.
  • Avoid mismatching relationships. If the original article says, “Parental involvement was shown to improve student productivity,” you cannot distort the relationship between ideas by saying, “Student productivity was shown to improve parental involvement.” Using words and ideas from the original is not enough. The relationship between the ideas has to be accurate. Ideas have to stay in context.
  • Avoid considering your audience. Your responsibility is to preserve the message. It’s not your responsibility to communicate in a way that appeals to a particular audience.
  • Avoid shifting verb tenses unnecessarily. Note the tense of the original. You will most likely write in present tense, or what is sometimes called “historic present.” Think about describing a piece of art. For example, “In American Gothic, a farmer is standing beside a woman who is thought to be his daughter or wife.” We describe art using present tense verbs; do the same for your summary. If the article you are assigned to summarize is written in past or future tense, your summary would follow suit.
  • Avoid introducing new ideas. No points for original ideas; in fact, you’ll lose fidelity points if you distort the original with your ideas.

On the MTEL CLST, a summary with fidelity gives a true picture of the original. It doesn’t talk at length about a minor point and then rush over a major point. It gives a brief accurate representation which reflects your ability to discern and synthesize.

 

MTEL Comm & Lit – Finding the Purpose and Meaning of Text

March 7th, 2019 | Comments Off on MTEL Comm & Lit – Finding the Purpose and Meaning of Text | Certification Prep, Literacy Certification, Reading Certification, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses, Writing Certification

You will need to be highly capable in navigating complexities in written text to pass the MTEL Communications and Literacy Skills Test. At the heart of every piece of writing is a message, either stated or unstated. Readers who can identify the author’s purpose, point of view, and audience (Objective 3) are best equipped to get at the “real” meaning. On licensure tests, time is also a factor. So now you need to be both speedy and highly competent with textual nuances.

Try these strategies:
• Connect every test question to a test objective.
The MTEL does not set out to disguise the intent of the questions. Look in the question for the specific, targeted vocabulary from one of the stated test objectives. Questions for Objective 3 will likely ask, “the purpose,” “the main purpose,” “the audience of,” or “the point of view.” Be wise to questions that substitute a synonym or derivative such as, “main reason” or “is intended to.”

• Dissect for purpose.
You can safely assume that every word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph of the texts is included by design. When a question states, “Information in paragraph 2 is intended to __,” you’ll need to be able to size up quickly what would be missing if that paragraph were omitted. General classification of text “to entertain,” “to persuade,” or “to inform” will be insufficient.

• Think DOK wheel.
Whatever your personal feelings about the usefulness of the DOK (depth of knowledge) wheel, it is a tidy list of verbs that state intent and purpose. It contains words such as classify, illustrate, dispute, and assess. As you read an exam text the first time, make some side notes about the different paragraphs. Be so thoroughly familiar with DOK verbs that the specific intent of a word, statement, or paragraph rolls off your tongue.

• Look for strong feelings.
Point of view on the exam deals almost exclusively with informational text. You’re looking for the writer’s belief system, not identifying a character’s point of view as first person or third person limited. You can find the point of view by analyzing word choice, obvious statements of belief, and omissions. (What is the author not stating?) Background information on the author can be useful in identifying the author’s point of view. Recognizing the text as biased or unbiased also falls under author’s point of view.

• Get beyond the words.
To find the author’s intended meaning, you’ll need to get beyond the stated words on the page and find the “real” meaning. Particularly in satire, words may state the opposite view of the author. (Is Jonathan Swift really suggesting that children be sold and eaten when he states, “no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat”? A Modest Proposal, 1729)

• Know the audience.
Each text on the CLST test is written with an audience in mind. The audience could be that catch-all, “general audience” or it could be an audience that brings specific background knowledge to the text. Everything from the textual appearance to the genre to the sentence structure can give away the author’s intended audience. Why is the audience significant? It plays into the author’s purpose. Know the audience and you have another tool to get at the subtleties of the author’s purpose and meaning.

Your analytical skills will need to be sharp. The exam texts will be difficult. Breathe deep. Know what you’re looking for. Succeed.

Selecting Essay Topic on FTCE

October 16th, 2018 | Comments Off on Selecting Essay Topic on FTCE | Certification Prep, Literacy Certification, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses, Writing Certification

 

Many teacher licensing exams, such as the Florida FTCE, have a writing test that gives you an option to choose your prompt. Both prompts will lend themselves to excellent essays. The trick is to choose the one that fits your skills and experience. Here are some points to consider.

 

  1. Match your selection with your knowledge. When you read the prompts, you will likely have one of three reactions: “Yes, Yes, Yes!! I know this one!” Or “No! No way! Can. Not.” or “Hmmm…looks about the same.” If you have a “Yes!” choose it and be done. If you have a “No,” obviously you know what to do there. If you have a “Hmmm…,” don’t overthink it. Continue to the other strategies for selecting your topic.
  2. Consider the grading criteria. Your score on some areas such as conventions or organization will not be particularly impacted by your selection; however, your score on focus, ideas, and word choice could be doomed with the wrong choice.
    Support Because your essay needs focused support to develop the topic, try to jot down a thesis statement. Can you come up with two or three points that you’re able to support adequately? Do you have some anecdotal evidence or some research to work in?
    Word Choice List your key vocabulary. Make sure you have the domain specific vocabulary you’ll need. For example, if your topic is reading levels and you can’t remember the words instructional, frustration, and independent, you’re going to be in trouble. Look at the other topic.
  1. Evaluate the purpose. The FTCE gives you a choice of a topic to explain or a topic to defend with a position. Identify which prompt tends to expository and which lends toward a position. What’s your preference? Would you prefer to write an expository essay supported by facts or a position paper supported by reasons?
  2. Commit If you’ve followed steps 1-3, by this point, either one option is the obvious right choice for you, or it probably doesn’t make much difference. Today’s world offers more options than any human can accommodate. As a result, we flip through movies, shows, songs, posts, etc. We struggle with commitment. Don’t be non-committal on the FTCE essay. Commit. Commit quickly and completely. You’ve got your topic. Now write.

One early prep strategy: anticipate essay questions. What are the topics you’ve addressed multiple times through your courses? Think tech, school choice, teacher’s rights/responsibilities, student needs. Write out strong essays on viable topics. Develop some stock answers that you can massage on test day.

One last minute test strategy: On test day, as you answer multiple choice questions, note the academic vocabulary in the questions. Those words may become very precious when you write the essay.

 

Countdown to Teacher Licensure Exam

October 1st, 2018 | Comments Off on Countdown to Teacher Licensure Exam | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

As you approach your teacher licensure exam, you can take specific actions that will ensure you are confidently prepared to test. You want to show up on your state’s annual pass rate report in the pass column rather than in the fail column.

You have been anticipating this exam since your first education course your freshman year of college. Now, you find that the time has come to reserve your exam day and make your final preparations. What’s your plan?

Determine the required tests. Exam requirements vary wildly from state-to-state. Ideally, six months before you want to test, you’ll set aside a two-hour block to read every word of your state’s education department website that relates to specifications for certification.

Review the entire set of test objectives and descriptive statements. You can find the test objectives on the website of the test provider for your state.

Try some practice questions. The test provider, your state education department, and/or your university will have a few sample questions on their websites. Again, set aside a block of time—this time to test. Review your results. Determine where you stand.

Review your coursework. Every reputable education course has some content which appears on teacher licensure tests. Commonly, instructors flag the content that aligns to the stated test objectives. Review the content flagged in your coursework.

Feel overwhelmed. And, yes, that is a required step. If you do not find yourself overwhelmed with the enormity of preparing for a licensure exam, you have underestimated the gravity of the task ahead of you. Some licensure tests have pass rates in the 50% range. Absorb that thought and rush to your next step.

Take a test prep course. PrepForward, for example, states, Our courses have been proven to boost performance on licensing exams. Our pass rates are near perfect.” We recommend that you get the prep course several months in advance to allow yourself to benefit from all features of the course. In addition to lessons, you’ll find scores of sample questions with in-depth explanations. Instructors are available. Using all features of the course works provides substantial benefit. If you’re down to your last weeks and days, while it’s not your best option, it may be time to cram. Prep courses provide you with a succinct one-stop source for coaching.

Acquire physical and mental stamina. Check the time allotted for your test. Use your test prep course to practice sustaining a mentally-demanding activity for the allotted test time. During that time, be conscious of your restroom breaks, avoid eating, avoid diversions such as checking phone messages. Maintain focused attention on your one task.

Every year, thousands of candidates follow these or similar steps to pass their teacher licensure exams. Get started today on making sure your next career step is a positive one.

 

Effective Teachers Organize

September 17th, 2018 | Comments Off on Effective Teachers Organize | Certification Prep, Teacher's Lounge Blog, Teaching Licenses

Article from the Series: Essentials for Effective New Teachers

Any healthy list of “Factors that Overwhelm New Teachers” is incomplete without a mention of “the stuff.” The combined accumulation of what you bring to the classroom and what you inherit from your predecessor may have you spiraling. You’ll need to get organized for the sake of your own efficiency, but most of all for the sake of your students.

If you find yourself standing in the middle of your classroom asking, “Does this stuff exist so that I can organize it or so that my students can use it to learn,” it’s time to make a change. Let me assure you—there’s a better way. It is not a sin to throw deadweight educational resources away. You may not want to purge too much your first year, but no one wins a prize for the storage closet with the most stuff.

Let’s look at the why and how of organization.

  1. Believe in the value of organization. If all new teachers really bought in to how vital classroom organization is to student learning and behavior, you would have no problem investing the time to get meticulously organized. Think back on the annoying issues you dealt with in student teaching. Not the giant issues such as fights—but the daily problems that wore you down and ate away at your effectiveness. How many of those could you trace back to poor organization? Were you able to solve any problems by rearranging desks or systematizing a transition?

For many students, breakdowns come in transitions. When transitions feel less like transitions and more like routines or habits, students feel safe in knowing the next step. The room stays calm and peaceful and is less likely to erupt in chaos.

  1. Create obvious spaces. At least half of your students, and more like three quarters, will not have a natural bent toward organization. For many students, a file is a file, a tub is a tub. Organizing books by reading level or matching scissor bin #1 with table #1 is not intuitive. You’ll do everyone a favor by making your organizational system simple and eye-catching. Think through traffic patterns. At first glance, it may seem obvious that you would keep all the scissors together on one bookshelf. However, if you observe that your “supply helpers” tend to congregate and get into mischief when sent on their mission to secure scissors for their tables, you may want to re-organized. Keeping all supplies for each work station strategically place in opposite corners of the room may turn out to be a better strategy. Avoid clutter. Students lack the ability to discriminate between one heap of clutter and the next. Avoid clutter.
  1. Walk through your day. Think through all your normal procedures; for example, passing in homework. If you say, “Pass in your homework,” you can expect to see papers flying through the air, kids bonking the student in front of them on the head, kids up out of their seats taking a stroll. You’ll wonder if you said, “Please mutiny,” by mistake. Instead, think how to minimize confusion and get the job done—Homework on the front desk before class begins? Wait for the homework behind you and pass the stack up together? Choose a strategy that works for you. Model it. Enforce it until it becomes routine.
  1. Find an organizer. If you’re not by nature an organizer, borrow the skills of someone who is. Remember the dad, Mr. Gilbreth, in the old classic book Cheaper by the Dozen. He was obsessed with efficiency—to the point of having all twelve children’s tonsils removed at the same time. You don’t have to go to that extreme with your students, but it may be worth talking to a seasoned teacher or your mom or…

At the beginning of the year, keep things simple. As students (and you!) master the simple, add more complexity. A commitment to organization, efficiency, and peace will make a measurable difference in your and your students’ days and year.