Study Guide

Field 231: Multi-Subject: Teachers of Middle Childhood
(Grade 5–Grade 9)
Part One: Literacy and English Language Arts

Sample Constructed-Response Item

Competency 0004
Analysis, Synthesis, and Application

Use the information in the exhibits to complete the task that follows.

Using your knowledge of content and sound pedagogical practices in literacy and English language arts, analyze the information provided and write a response of approximately 400–600 words in which you:

Be sure to use evidence from all the exhibits in your response.

Exhibit 1: Excerpt and Writing Assignment

Students in an eighth-grade class are reading Esmeralda Santiago's memoir When I Was Puerto Rican. The teacher assigns the excerpt below for students to use as the source for a writing assignment.

Excerpt

Our house sat on concrete stilts that allowed enough headroom underneath for us to stake out play areas with clearly defined boundaries. Discarded pieces of zinc, chicken wire, cardboard, torn sheets that Mami had given us, and dried palm fronds formed the walls of our very own barrio under the house. My spot was on the back corner nearest the kitchen, where the land sloped toward Papi's shed. I couldn't quite stand up, but I could crawl in and kneel or squat comfortably. I had swept the ground smooth and placed mismatched tiles in the center for a colorful mosaic floor. It was there that I went when I was sick and tired of everybody, which was most of my twelfth year.

Through a hole in the burlap bag that served as the door of my hideaway I had a view of the creek, the malanga* and bananas growing on the slope, and the gardenia near the porch. The more I looked at it, the more I loved that bush that had never flowered. It was oval shaped, with branches sticking out here and there like a woman who had not combed her hair.

"Papi," I asked one night as he sat on the porch reading the paper, "how come the gardenia never blossoms?"

"It probably needs water," he said.

So every day I filled an old coffee can two or three times and watered around the roots of the bush, moistening the earth until it became spongy. The bush grew rounder, taller, its leaves thick and green.

"If you prune the tips," Mami said, "it will grow faster and fuller."

With a rusty pair of scissors, I trimmed the branches. "I'm sorry, little tree," I murmured so no one else could hear, "but I want you to grow and give us flowers." Whatever I cut off, I put under the bush, to feed the roots.

"I've taken real good care of it," I said to Papi, "but it still won't bloom."

"It takes patience. You've only been doing it for a week. Give it time."

"It won't flower when you want it to," Mami said. "Keep taking care of it and you'll see. One day it will surprise you."1


*malanga: Spanish name for a tropical root vegetable


After students read the excerpt independently, they discuss it as a class. The teacher then gives students the writing assignment below and the rubric that appears in Exhibit 2: Rubric.

Assignment

Write an essay about how the author uses the setting to convey information about her thoughts and feelings. Your essay will be graded according to the rubric.

Exhibit 2: Rubric

SCORE
Criteria NYCCLS
CCR
4
Essays at this level:
3
Essays at this level:
2
Essays at this level:
CONTENT AND ANALYSIS
How well does your essay convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately to support claims in an analysis of the text?
W.2
R.1–9
  • clearly introduce a topic in a manner that is compelling and follows logically from the task and purpose of the essay
  • demonstrate insightful analysis of the text
  • clearly introduce a topic in a manner that follows from the task and purpose of the essay
  • demonstrate grade-appropriate analysis of the text
  • introduce a topic in a manner that follows generally from the task and purpose of the essay
  • demonstrate a literal comprehension of the text
COMMAND OF EVIDENCE
How well does your essay present evidence from the text to support analysis and reflection?
W.9
R.1–9
  • develop the topic with concrete details, quotations, or other examples from the text
  • sustain the use of varied, relevant evidence
  • develop the topic with details, quotations, or other information and examples from the text
  • sustain the use of relevant evidence, with some lack of variety
  • partially develop the topic with textual evidence, some of which may be irrelevant
  • use relevant evidence inconsistently
COHERENCE, ORGANIZATION, AND STYLE
How well does your essay logically organize complex ideas, concepts, and information using formal style and precise language?
W.2
L.3
L.6
  • exhibit clear organization, with the skillful use of appropriate and varied transitions to create a unified whole and enhance meaning
  • establish and maintain a formal style, using grade-appropriate, stylistically sophisticated language and domain-specific vocabulary with a notable sense of voice
  • provide a concluding statement or section that is compelling and follows clearly from the topic and information presented
  • exhibit clear organization, with the use of appropriate transitions to create a unified whole
  • establish and maintain a formal style using precise language and domain-specific vocabulary
  • provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the topic and information presented
  • exhibit some attempt at organization, with inconsistent use of transitions
  • establish but fail to maintain a formal style, with inconsistent use of language and domain-specific vocabulary
  • provide a concluding statement or section that follows generally from the topic and information presented
COMMAND OF CONVENTIONS
How well does your essay demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling?
W.2
L.1
L.2
  • demonstrate grade-appropriate command of conventions, with few errors
  • demonstrate grade-appropriate command of conventions, with occasional errors that do not get in the way of comprehension
  • demonstrate emerging command of conventions, with some errors that may get in the way of comprehension

Exhibit 3: Student Writing Sample

Michael, a student whose primary language is English, writes the first draft of an essay for the writing assignment. Michael's first draft appears below.

      In her memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago talks about growing up in Puerto Rico. She and her family were very poor. They lived in many different places. Their first house had a dirt floor. Sometimes they stayed with relatives. Finally, they get a better house where Esmeralda has her own room next to the kitchen. This is a big deal because she has a lot of brothers and sisters. In the part we read for this assignment, Esmeralda Santiago shows how she was trying to be more independant.
      Esmeralda is 12 and she has a "hideaway" under the house. She puts tiles on the dirt, like when her father installed a floor in the first house. Esmeralda likes to stay under the house behind a "burlap bag that served as the door" and look at a gardenia bush that doesn't have flowers. She "loved that bush that had never flowered." I think she loved it because it represented possibilities. She wants to get older and do what she wants so her dreams can come true insted of hiding under the house.
      Esmeralda asks her mother and father how to make the gardenia bush flower. Her parents are always arguing, so it is no suprise when they give her different advise. Her father says to water it. After she waters it: "The bush grew rounder, taller, its leaves thick and green." Her mother says to prune it. Esmeralda cuts the tips off the branches and puts them under the bush "to feed the roots." But still no flowers.
      Esmeralda is like the gardenia bush. She tries to cut herself off from the family so she can be her own person. I understand how she feels. But she doesn't go far. She stays under the house. Her parents are like roots for the family. Esmeralda still needs them to help her grow up. This is hard to except when you are 12. Esmeralda's mother says, "One day it will suprise you." The big suprise comes later when Esmeralda finds out they are moving to Brooklyn.

Exhibit 4: Student Self-Assessment and Reflection

After students complete the writing assignment, the teacher asks them to answer a question in their writing journals as part of their ongoing self-assessment and reflection. The teacher's question and Michael's response appear below.

What did you find challenging about writing the first draft of your essay?


      Usualy when I read I just want to know what happens next, I don't want to stop and analyse things to much. Nothing really happens in this part of the book so at first I thought it was boring, but after we talked about it in class I changed my mind. When we started reading this book, the teacher explained that you can't put every detail from your life in a memoir cause it would take forever to write everything down and it would be super boring to read. You have to pick details because they mean something to you. In class we talked about how Esmeralda Santiago could've described a lot of things in this seen, but she wrote about hiding under the house and the gardenia bush because they show what she was thinking and feeling when she was 12, like trying to be more independant but still wanting her parents to help her. I didn't really get that when I read it the first time. It's like when you lissen to a song one time and you think you know what it's about, but after a few more times you realise it's alot more complicated.

Sample Strong Response to the Constructed-Response Assignment

In the first draft of his essay, Michael demonstrates strength in literary analysis. In writing about the use of setting in "When I Was Puerto Rican," he is able to effectively use a direct quotation to explain Santiago's love for the gardenia bush and offers an insightful analysis of how the gardenia bush conveys Santiago's feelings: "I think she loved it because it represented possibilities" and "Esmeralda is like the gardenia bush." In the final paragraph, he offers additional insight when he states that Santiago's parents "are like roots for the family." Relative to the Rubric in Exhibit 2, his writing is moving toward demonstrating "insightful analysis of the text."

Some of this insight comes from class discussion. Michael's self-assessment reveals that he did not understand that the setting was connected to the author's feelings and thoughts until after a class discussion of why the author included specific details in her memoir. Michael's understanding from the discussion is that Santiago "wrote about hiding under the house and the gardenia bush because they show what she was thinking and feeling when she was 12, like trying to be more independant [sic] but still wanting her parents to help her.

Michael demonstrates a need in the area of focus and organization. His first paragraph lacks a thesis statement that clearly introduces the essay topic. As a result, the essay lacks a controlling idea and coherent organization. He writes an introduction, but because it doesn't reflect the assignment, the rest of the essay inappropriately focuses on "growing up in Puerto Rico." This lack of appropriate focus is particularly apparent in the last paragraph. Extraneous statements such as, "I understand how she feels," and "this is hard to except [sic] when you are 12," interrupt the flow of ideas and make the paragraph difficult to follow. The last sentence of the paragraph introduces a new topic: "The big surprise comes later when Esmeralda finds out they are moving to Brooklyn."

Michael would benefit from a learning activity designed to help him develop a thesis statement that would clearly introduce the essay topic in a manner that follows "logically from the task" (Rubric: Content and Analysis). The teacher could first ask Michael to reread the essay assignment and identify the purpose of the assignment. Next, the teacher could show Michael how to rephrase the assignment to create a basic thesis statement. For example: "In Esmeralda Santiago's memoir "When I Was Puerto Rican," the author uses the setting to convey information about her thoughts and feelings." Next, the teacher could ask Michael to highlight the details of setting in his draft and then, in a different color, highlight explanations about Santiago's thoughts and feelings, and finally, discuss his findings with the teacher.

This strategy would be effective in addressing Michael's need for several reasons. It would clarify his purpose for writing and give him a model for writing a thesis sentence. Highlighting the details about setting and emotions would reinforce the key ideas in the thesis statement and help focus his thinking. The different color highlights would give him a graphic representation of his organization. It would be visually clear to him that although he has many details about setting, he has few about the connection to Esmeralda's thoughts and feelings. In their subsequent discussion, the teacher could help scaffold Michael's writing either by directly advising him (e.g., "Rather than say that you know how she feels, put those feelings in words, as long as you can support your conclusion") or by eliciting those suggestions from Michael.

Performance Characteristics for Constructed-Response Item

The following characteristics guide the scoring of responses to the constructed-response assignment.

Completeness The degree to which the response addresses all parts of the assignment
Accuracy The degree to which the response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills accurately and effectively
Depth of Support The degree to which the response provides appropriate examples and details that demonstrate sound reasoning

Score Scale for Constructed-Response Item

A score will be assigned to the response to the constructed-response item according to the following score scale.

Score Point Score Point Description
4 The "4" response reflects a thorough command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response thoroughly addresses all parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with thorough accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is well supported by relevant examples and details and thoroughly demonstrates sound reasoning.
3 The "3" response reflects a general command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response generally addresses all parts of the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with general accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is generally supported by some examples and/or details and generally demonstrates sound reasoning.
2 The "2" response reflects a partial command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response addresses all parts of the assignment, but most only partially; or some parts are not addressed at all.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with partial accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is partially supported by some examples and/or details or demonstrates flawed reasoning.
1 The "1" response reflects little or no command of the relevant knowledge and skills:
  • The response minimally addresses the assignment.
  • The response demonstrates the relevant knowledge and skills with minimum accuracy and effectiveness.
  • The response is minimally supported or demonstrates significantly flawed reasoning.
UThe response is unscorable because it is unrelated to the assigned topic or off-task, unreadable, written in a language other than English or contains an insufficient amount of original work to score.
BNo response.

Acknowledgments

1 © 1993 Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican. Reprinted by permission of Addison-Wesley, a member of the Perseus Books Group.