Preparing for PARCC/NJSLA Part V – Aligning English Language Arts Instructional Practices

Preparing for PARCC/NJSLA Part V – Aligning English Language Arts Instructional Practices

Jaclyn Siano

Aligning English Language Arts Instructional Practices

This post is part of our blog series on PARCC/NJSLA. In this series, we offer tips and strategies you can use to ensure that your students perform at their very best on the PARCC/NJSLA tests.

Regardless of how you feel about PARCC/NJSLA, or any standardized test, I think that in PARCC/NJSLA states we can all agree, at this moment it is necessary to prepare our students for the experience. And to be honest, I don’t think that preparing for PARCC/NJSLA is a waste of instruction time. PARCC/NJSLA is a test that evaluates students’ progress toward college and career readiness.  It is a test of our students’ competence regarding the Common Core State Standards. Therefore, when we are preparing students for PARCC/NJSLA we are applying and practicing the Common Core. That is what we are supposed to do.But what does a fully aligned classroom look like?

“The PARCC/NJSLA assessments are aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and were created to measure students’ ability to apply their knowledge of concepts rather than memorizing facts.”  (NJDOE)

In English Language Arts (ELA), students will be required to:

Closely read multiple passages
Write essay responses in literary analysis, research tasks and narrative tasks

Close Reading

So what is close reading and how do we apply it in the classroom?

Characteristics of Close Reading

  • Uncovers layers of meaning in a text
  • Invites a careful reading of the text
  • Requires a text to be read multiple times
  • Requires that students be asked a range of text-dependent questions

Text-Dependent Questions

  • Can only be answered with evidence from the text.
  • Can be literal but must also involve analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  • Focus on word, sentence, and paragraph, as well as larger ideas, themes, or events.
  • Focus on difficult portions of the text in order to enhance reading proficiency
  • Can also include prompts for writing and discussion questions. (

Applying Close Reading and Asking Text-Dependent Questions

One implication of conducting close reading and asking text-dependent questions is that classroom tasks should require students to provide both oral and written responses to questions about the text in which the answers are found within the text and are not based on prior knowledge, experience or opinion.

  • Instructors should spend more time teaching students how to find evidence from the text.
  • Instructors need to consider and create text-dependent questions before instruction.
  • Instructors should attend professional development workshops to learn how to apply close reading strategies

Literary Analysis Tasks

How do students complete LATs?

Students carefully consider two literary texts worthy of close study.
They are asked to answer a few EBSR and TECR questions about each text to demonstrate their ability to do close analytic reading and to compare and synthesize ideas.
Students write a literary analysis about the two texts.

PARCC’s LATs and RSTs are a new and unusual writing task for both instructors and students.  But at the heart of a literary analysis task is the understanding that authors write for specific purposes. And the student’s thesis in a LAT is his/her perspective of the author’s choices that are supported with evidence from the text.  To assist students to write quality LATs they need to have a strong understanding of the elements of literature and an understanding of how to construct the essay

Please view the blog, “6-Step Process for Writing LATs and RSTs” to learn how to assist your students to complete these essays.

Some topics that instructors might want to focus on include:

  • Elements of Literature
  • Word Choice
  • Genres
  • Literary Devices

Research Simulation Tasks

The other new and unusual writing task is the Research Simulation Task (RST).

How do students complete RSTs?

Students begin by reading an anchor text that introduces the topic.
EBSR and TECR items ask students to gather key details about the passage to support their understanding.
Students read one or two additional sources and answer a few questions about each text to learn more about the topic, so they are ready to write the final essay and to show their reading comprehension.
Finally, students mirror the research process by synthesizing their understandings into a writing that uses textual evidence from the sources.

Some of the concepts that students will be asked to write about include:

  1. Main Idea and Supporting Details: Students read one text and identify main idea and supporting details
  2. Cause and Effect: Students read another text and identify the cause and effect
  3. Claim and Evidence: Students read another text and identify claim, supporting evidence and explanation

Instructors can help students to complete RSTs by:

  • Familiarizing students with RST elements
  • Building students’ skills related to evidence
  • Helping students improve their writing skills

Let’s talk about evidence. How do students select the best evidence to support their claim? Here is an example of a thought-provoking activity you can use in your classroom:

Narrative Tasks

The narrative tasks on PARCC/NJSLA are the most familiar to our students.

How do students complete the narrative tasks?

  • Students read a literary text
  • Students answer EBSR or TECR items
  • Students write a narrative story (PCR)

Some of the elements that students will need to hone in order to perform well on this task include:

  • Point of view
  • Developing strong voice
  • Identifying mood, tone and voice

Students will also need to improve the quality of their essays:

  • Show Don’t Tell
  • Strong Character Development
  • Improved Dialogue
  • Powerful Language

Here is an example of an activity that instructors can use to enhance students understanding of the narrative task requirements:

It is our sincerest wish that you find value in these ideas and resources and begin to integrate the concepts that students will experience on PARCC/NJSLA. Please let us know if we can help you make your classroom or school more fully aligned with the Common Core and PARCC/NJSLA.

Inspired Instruction offers hundreds of PARCC/NJSLA lesson plans, online PARCC/NJSLA-like assessments with technology-enhanced items, PARCC/NJSLA workshops, and PARCC/NJSLA demonstration lessons.

Please contact Michele Regan for more information: or 908-223-7202

Inspired Instruction and Standards Solution Holding, LLC are not owned by or affiliated in any fashion with PARCC, Inc.

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