Decoding the ATS-W Essay Assignment

When you go to take the ATS-W Examination, you will be given an essay writing assignment similar to the one on the opposite page.2 Looks confusing, doesn't it? What exactly are the GOAL and the TEACHING OBJECTIVES asking you to do? Believe it or not, the GOAL and particularly the TEACHING OBJECTIVES are what will help guide you into writing the type of essay that the evaluators are looking for! In order to do that, though, you must have an inherent understanding of the difference between the GOAL and the TEACHING OBJECTIVES.

THE GOAL:

First, let's take a look at the GOAL. It is the first statement that is presented to you and it is what will determine the topic you write on. Many people find the GOAL confusing because it is not framed as a question. If that is the case with you, you can very easily turn the GOAL into a question. Just put the words "How can I" or "How can I make sure that" before the GOAL. Look at the following GOAL, for example.

Students will develop career awareness and an understanding of the world of work.3

It can very easily be changed into the following question:

How can I make sure that students will develop career awareness and an understanding of the world of work?

Now look at the goal on the opposite page. How can you turn it into a question?

Did you guess: How can I provide students who have disabilities with effective learning experiences in an inclusive regular education classroom? 
If so, you guessed right! 

Once you have turned the GOAL into a question, it is easier to see what it is that you are being asked to write about. Now, you just need to think about what the best possible way to write about this topic will be. When you ask yourself that, you know it is time to look at the sample TEACHING OBJECTIVES.

THE TEACHING OBJECTIVES:

The GOAL, remember, is the guiding principle of your essay. The TEACHING OBJECTIVES, on the other hand, function to give you ideas as to the kinds of strategies you can talk about that will fulfill this GOAL. Let's look back at GOAL 5 to see how this works. One way to achieve GOAL 5 (Provide students who have disabilities with effective learning experiences in an inclusive regular education classroom.) is to work with others inside and outside the school to facilitate student achievement of desired learning goals in an inclusive classroom. Another way to achieve GOAL 5 is to individualize instruction to promote learning and development for students with special needs, etc... Each of these TEACHING OBJECTIVES can therefore be seen as one way or manner to achieve the GOAL. As such, they can give you ideas as to the type of strategies the test evaluators are looking for. 


THINKING ABOUT YOUR ESSAY

Now that you understand how the GOAL and TEACHING OBJECTIVES can guide you in the process of writing your essay, you are ready to begin thinking in specific terms about what information you will include in it. Remember, an essay should have an introductory paragraph, two paragraphs that make up it's body and a concluding paragraph. All in all, you are looking at four paragraphs. See below:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Introduction: *
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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Body: *
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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Body: *
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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Conclusion: *
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When thinking about what to include in your essay, remember that the instructions to the essay specifically ask you to include four things. They ask you to:

1. identify a grade level/subject area for which you are prepared to teach;
2. explain the importance of the given GOAL;
3. describe two strategies you would use to achieve this GOAL;
4. explain why the strategies you describe will be effective in achieving this GOAL.

Remember, this essay will be evaluated based on the extent to which it demonstrates that you possess the knowledge and skills of the teaching profession.4 It is therefore very important that you carefully consider what you write down for each of these four areas. Lets take a look at each area separately. 

Area 1: Identifying a grade level/subject area for which you are prepared to teach. When identifying a grade level/subject area, keep in mind that the grade level and/or subject area that you choose will be used to determine how knowledgeable you really are about the work done in that grade level and/or subject area. In other words, by doing this, you are not only naming a grade level and/or subject area you are prepared to teach, you are also setting yourself up to prove that you actually can teach that grade level and/or subject area. You must therefore make sure that the two strategies you choose to write about are adequate for the grade level and/or subject area you have identified. For example, if you have identified kindergarten as the grade level you are prepared to teach, you would not be able to include a science lesson on the structure of cells or an essay writing assignment in the strategies you describe. This would only prove to the ATS-W Test evaluators that you really don't have an understanding of the type of instruction that must be done in Kindergarten. Instead, a science lesson would have to be structured around directly observable phenomena such as crickets or guinea pigs and a writing assignment might encourage the usage of invented spelling. 

A WORD TO THE WISE: If the only strategies you can think of to achieve the desired GOAL are not compatible with the grade level and/or subject area that you usually teach, you are better off changing the grade level and/or subject area you mentioned so that it can match the strategies. Remember, the ATS-W Test evaluators do not know what grades and subjects you teach. The only information they have to evaluate you on is what you have written down on the paper. Choose wisely.

Area 2: Explaining the importance of the given GOAL: The instructions tell you that you must explain the importance of the given GOAL; they do not ask whether you think this GOAL is important or not. Once you read and understand the GOAL, you must therefore make sure that you have reasons explaining why it is important.

A WORD TO THE WISE: Stating that a GOAL is important is not enough; the test has already told you that it is important. Your job is to explain exactly why it is important. Try to give at least three solid reasons. In this way, you demonstrate that you have an in-depth understanding of the importance of the GOAL.

Area 3: Describing two strategies that you would use to achieve the GOAL. When thinking of strategies to write about, you must keep two things in mind. 1) The TEACHING OBJECTIVES are there to give you ideas on the types of strategies that you can write about. 2) When you think about what manner you would use to implement the TEACHING OBJECTIVES, think of them in light of the grade/subject area that you have stated that you are qualified to teach. 

In order to do this, you must take the time to look at each of the three TEACHING OBJECTIVES and think about how you would carry each out. Turn to the TEACHING OBJECTIVES that were presented to you on page 2, for example. Ask yourself: How would you work with others inside and outside the school to facilitate student achievement of desired learning goals in an inclusive classroom? How would you individualize instruction to promote learning and development for students with special needs? How would you implement procedures to ensure that students with special needs participate to the greatest extent possible in all classroom activities? Each of these questions should elicit answers. You should get a picture in your head as to the type of activities that you can do for each. Remember, though, that you have to write about only two strategies. Therefore, when deciding what two strategies you ultimately choose to write about, make sure you pick the two that you can write most concretely about and that are most compatible for the grade/subject area you have chosen as your area of expertise.

A WORD TO THE WISE: The test evaluators are looking to see that you know each of the two strategies you write about well. If you cannot write more than two sentences for a strategy, then don't choose it. Choose a strategy that you know very well and feel comfortable writing about. Some people think that they can fool the test evaluators by mentioning lots of ideas superficially and not writing about any of them in depth. They are only fooling themselves. This will not only make the test evaluators think that you don't know any of the material well, but also that you don't know how to follow directions. Remember, you were asked for two strategies and that's what you must stick to if you want to pass. 

Look at the two paragraphs on page 8. Which writer demonstrates an in depth understanding of the material he/she is writing on? 





Writer 1:

It is important that a disabled student get as much help as possible in a regular education class because he/she has a disability that makes it harder to do things that are easy for other students to do. One way that I can help such a student is by making up special homework assignments for the student tailored to his/her needs. Other ways that I could help the student can include partnering the student up with a buddy who can also help and making sure that the student has a special seat in front of the blackboard. These things would ensure that the student had the support needed to succeed in my classroom. Before the student came to my classroom, I would also teach all of the students in my class about children with disabilites. In this way, the rest of my students would empathize with the new student rather than feel alienated from him/her. This would mean that my students would feel more inclined to help the student rather than make fun of him/her.


Writer 2:

As a second strategy, I would familiarize myself with the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and use it as an important resource for planning instruction. An IEP is created specially for each child with disabilities and is the basis for all decisions made about the child's education. As a classroom teacher, I must be prepared to use IEPs as I will be one of the people responsible for implementing my student's plans. The IEP provides information and guidelines for helping a student with disabilities learn in the regular classroom. It will give me useful information about the student (e.g., reading comprehension level, learning style) and identify general strategies for adapting the student's instruction. By defining specific learning goals and objectives that are appropriate for the student, the IEP can also let me know if learning is not proceeding as expected. If the student is not achieving the goals and objectives in the IEP, it may indicate that I need to change my approach and perhaps consult other professionals for assistance. 5


If you picked the paragraph Writer 2 wrote, you are correct. Writer 2 focuses on one strategy: familiarizing him/herself with the student's IEP in order to use it as an important resource for planning instruction. Writer 1 mentions many different strategies. He/she begins by mentioning that he/she would make up special homework assignments for the student. Instead of focusing on how she would do this, though, he/she goes on to mention other ways that he/she can help this student. The result is that he/she doesn't stay on any strategy long enough to give an adequate explanation of why he/she has decided to use it.


Area 4: Explaining why these strategies would be effective in achieving the educational GOAL. Believe it or not, this is the area that teachers encounter the most difficulty with. This is because many teachers are very general when giving reasons why their strategies are effective. Make sure the reasons you give focus on how your strategy will help with the specific GOAL cited. If the specific GOAL cited is the promotion of multi-culturalism in the classroom, the reasons you give have to be connected to multi-culturalism. Your reason should not be about developing literacy with students.

A WORD TO THE WISE: The ATS-W essay usually deals with current trends in education. Recent essay topics have detitle with formal and informal assessment methods and the use of parents in the classroom. It is important to be up on current trends in education so that you can write an adequate essay. Reading teaching magazines and journals is the best way to do this. Attending after school workshops sponsored by the District or Union is another good way of doing this. 

When learning about a current educational method, it is important for you not only to pay attention to how the method is implemented, but also to the explanation given as to HOW this implementation is supposed to help students.

Look back to the Writer 2's paragraph on page 8. Can you list all the reasons he gives as to why his strategy works?


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