This is Meghan from Vestal’s 21st Century Classroom and as we head into testing season, I wanted to share some of the fun things I have done in my classroom to get students prepped and ready for standardized testing. Here are 4 ways I have found to motivate students, get parents involved, and transform my classroom during one of the most dreaded times of year.
Raise your hand if you have used music at any point during the school year to help your students memorize important concepts! I have found music helps my students to retain information better and I incorporate lots of singing and dancing into my lessons throughout the year. Now, is time to pull out all of those songs and make sure students still remember them!
Since testing is a stressful time for students too, review the songs in a fun way to get them engaged and to help ease any of the nervousness they may be feeling. A fun way I have found to review educational songs is by having a campfire. A real fire is out of the question in any school but there are several ways to inexpensively create a pretend fire. I do this by:
- Finding an object that blows air up. I use an air purifier but you could also use a fan.
- Attach red, orange, and yellow streamers to the purifier/fan.
- Turn the purifier/fan on low so that the air causes the streamers to shoot up and move, without breaking.
- Last, arrange logs or brown cardboard around the purifier/fan so that it can no longer be seen.
I push all the desks to the sides of the room and sit the “camp fire” in the middle of the room. As a class, we sit in a circle around the fire and sing the songs we have learned throughout the year. I also let the students make s’mores, in between songs, to help encourage everyone to participate.
There are a lot of schools that have some kind of test prep boot camp, but most “boot camps” I have been a part of accomplish this through regular small group instruction and/or worksheets. Most students are already unhappy about preparing for and taking standardized tests so it is important for any type of test prep boot camp to be fun and educational.
One of my colleagues, took the idea of boot camp literally. She showed up to school dressed in all military attire and had stations strategically placed around her room that got students reviewing their math skills, without even realizing it. Students were put into groups and had to work as a team to rotate through each station. One station had students see how many jumping jacks and sit ups they could do in a minute and then they had to use that data to find the mean, median, mode, and range for their group. Another station required them to graph the data they had collected about the number of sit ups and jumping jacks they could do. The teacher had found ways to incorporate different math skills into each station while keeping everything army themed. I watched her students leave school that day and could tell they had so much fun! It was something they could not stop talking about for the remainder of the school year!
Studies have shown there is a correlation between self-confidence and academic performance. I have always taught in under performing schools and have found confidence building to be one of the most important aspects of my job. Most students have what it takes to be successful on standardized tests. Unfortunately, there are a vast number of students who do not believe this fact. Therefore, leading up to testing, I try to incorporate lots of activities to help students recognize their gifts and celebrate their accomplishments.
One of my favorite ways to do this is by having a big party. I decorate the classroom with streamers and put party hats on student’s desks. I want it to feel like a big birthday party but for all the students. Time is provided for students to have a snack and play a few games. In between activities, I hand out awards to the students recognizing an academic accomplishment from the year. I never give awards for things like personality or nonacademic achievements during this party because it is a time for the students recognize that they are smart and have what it takes to pass their test(s). I make sure every student receives an award during the party and when I pass out an award, I encourage all the other students to stand and cheer for their classmate. This helps to foster an environment where students feel empowered to encourage one another.
Everyone enjoys getting a compliment but there is something particularly meaningful about a compliment from a parent. I like to surprise my students with parent compliments right before they begin taking their test. About 1 month, prior to the start of testing, I send a large envelope to each student’s parents. In the envelope, I include several items:
- A letter reminding parents about testing and asking them to help me encourage the students prior to testing.
- 1 index card for each test the students will take. The index cards are colored coded and I explain to parents, in the letter, what each color card is for (blue is for math, green is for reading, white is for science, etc.).
- A stamped envelope already labeled with the school’s address.
On test day, I sit the index cards on the student’s desks so that they will see them first thing upon arriving. The kids get so excited seeing they have a special note on their desk and most will read their note several times. I always have 1 or 2 parents who do not send the materials back, even after I make phone calls home, so I write a special letter for those students.
Testing is extremely stressful for students and teachers. As we go into testing season, remember 2 things… make it fun and keep it positive! Good luck to you and your students on their 2016 tests!
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**Clip art by: Krista Wallden (Creative Clips) & Lita Lita