For teachers, it’s that time of year. This post is for teachers and parents ready to tackle the onslaught of standardized tests that take place in the spring.
Most teachers hate this time of year. I don’t. I don’t mind it at all actually. There are times in the year that are much worse for me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily agree with standardized tests, but I don’t mind taking them.
There are a few reasons for this, some within my control and some outside of my control.
Some of the things that are outside of my control:
*I’ve yet to have a “bad” class. My classes usually have a SMALL handful of students that are a little disruptive or pains or just plain unmotivated, but normally, my class as a whole, is pretty darn good.
*I work in a lower-income school district that has made big changes over the years to make our students more successful. Some of the changes I don’t agree with but some of them do help. The staff at my school, in particular, has utilized the professional development very well so our school is usually successful at testing time. It’s not unanimous, usually every class counts, but we do well.
What is in my control:
*Teaching all year-long. I use strategies such as posting my objectives for each lesson. Using sentence starters so that my students feel comfortable using the academic vocabulary that’s on the test. I also teach test taking strategies all year-long. I make it fun and it’s one of my students’ favorite parts of the week. I have response cards my mom made one year. It’s just a colored piece of 8X11 paper with the letters A B C D in each corner. As we read multiple choice questions, the students hold up the corner of the one that they think the answer is.
*Building community. My approach with standardized testing is the class against the test. The class as a whole, we are a team. I can’t use that approach if I don’t spend all year creating a bond between the students. One of the parents of my students once said to me that my students treat one another like siblings. They bicker but they watch out for each other and genuinely care. That’s my most secret weapon.
Quick examples, we are open and honest with each other. I do a lot of social learning where the kids work together in groups. I also have named my students the “Hatchlings.” It gives us a sense of classroom pride. It works very well. “Hatchling behavior on three!” “Is that what Hatchlings do?” I stole Hatchling because Zach told me that we would use it to refer to our children. But I use it with my students. I explain that it’s not just a play on words. If you help a Hatchling out of its shell when it’s trying to hatch, it will usually die because it’s not strong enough to survive. My approach to teaching is very much aimed at teaching the students to problem solve, utilize resources, and think for themselves…so this comparison to Hatchlings breaking their way out of a shell works perfectly and I can refer to it when the students need a refresher course.
*How I create “a class versus the test” approach:
*The students come up with a slogan to wear on their shirts (on a sticker, although this year we are upgrading to buttons) The first year it was “Team Larson.” The second year it was “Team Hatch.” The third year it was, “Dear ISAT, don’t make me go all Hatchling on you!” This year the class has chosen, “Hatchlings and ISATs don’t mix; we beat them every time.” The students choose the slogan and then they take ownership of if. (I’ll post a picture tomorrow).
*We get together on the morning of the test and have some brain food. I usually just serve apples/peanut butter (no allergies in my class/school) or apple slices and string cheese.
*Before the test we stretch, take deep breaths, sometimes we always take a walk, and we pump up to this song.
*Right before the test we get in a circle with our hands in the center (like athletes do) and yell, “One, two , three, Hatchlings!” The kids wish each other well, we calm down and walk in to tackle the test head on.
***Another great tip for testing that is good for teachers and parents alike is to have the student write out his/her feelings about the test before taking it. I am having my students use this sentence starter: I am feeling _______________ about today’s ISAT because _________________. I am going to ______________ in order to do my very best. (Of course others can add as much as they see fit). This is said to boost test scores by 10%. Who knows, but it’s worth it if it helps the students alleviate some anxiety.
I try to make the experience enjoyable. After the first one, the students start referring to it as “fun’ and that makes it much less stressful for the other students and for me.