Constructed Responses: 3 Reasons They Are Great For Kids

     The Common Core/State Standards Curriculum emphasizes that students be able to communicate higher-level thinking in all subject areas.  Instead of only creating good test takers who can guess the correct answer from four choices, we want to train analytical thinkers who know that they can arrive at answers differently, critique others’ thinking, and who can clearly communicate their thought processes.

     Constructed responses are a powerful tool in this journey.  Responding to a task via a constructed response means that the student literally “builds”, or constructs, their answer through a complete explanation.  Of course, we want any facts used to be correct, but we also want to know that students have mastered basic content concepts and developed complete schema.  

     In a good constructed response, information must be recalled, but it may be put together in a new way.  Students may be asked to recall content,  explain their thinking, tell why they chose that solution path, or explain another situation in which they might have to apply the same content knowledge.  

     Keep in mind that constructed responses are generally different from journal prompts in several ways.  Journal prompts tend to ask about a student's opinion, their experience, or engage their creativity and imagination, so basically there is no wrong answer.  Constructed responses are generally non-fiction in origin and are based in facts, and still engage students in higher-level thinking.  The creativity comes from how the student puts together the information, how they solve the problem, or what direction they take in the solution.  Below are some examples/non-examples.
*Constructed Response: "Spies are generally a part of war time. Tell what spies do and how they operated during The Civil War."
*NOT a Constructed Response: "Name a spy who worked during The Civil War"; or, "Would you have liked to be a spy during The Civil War? Why or why not?" 
*Constructed Response: "Deer, rabbits, hawks, and snakes can all live in the same ecosystem.  Explain how they can all survive while competing for the same resources."

*NOT a Constructed Response: "Tell about a time that you interacted with a deer, a rabbit, a hawk, or a snake."

*Constructed Response: Benjamin said, “Halves are larger than fifths so ½ is larger than 4/5.”  Is he right or wrong?  How can you tell?" 
*NOT a Constructed Response: "Compare 1/2 to 4/5."

     So, why are constructed response activities a useful experience for students?

1. Students must master content.  Whether it is from independent reading, personal research, listening in class, or watching videos the student is responsible for owning the information.

2. Students have a great opportunity to use their creativity. They can explain their own solution to a problem or take a unique direction in their answer. They are not held to a "either you're right or you're wrong" test-type answer.

3. It's easy for a teacher to see if a student has really "gotten" the concepts. Guessing is not going to work here.

     There seems to be a plethora of journal prompts for every topic imaginable.  Just search "journal prompts for ______" and you'll see!  Constructed responses can be a little harder to find.  High stakes, end-of-grade testing has increased the need for students to have practice and assessment opportunities, so I've spent a good bit of time creating math, science, and social studies constructed responses. Consider checking out some of my products with the links below. 

Constructed Responses: Civil War Version
     Let me hear what your experiences are with constructed responses and I'd love some feedback on my products!
Pat McFadyen
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