At one time spring was my favorite season. It’s supposed to be a time of renewing. The trees budding and flowers are appearing. But in the land of education, it has a bleaker sight. The sight of test booklets, online assessments, stressed children, pacing bored teachers trying to catch a glimpse at the screens, and two weeks (or more) of no real teaching. Yes, it’s testing season.
In nearly every district I have worked in, testing immediately follows spring break. It’s a fantastic (sarcasm) way to return! Most of my students are still in spring break mode and are NOT thinking about testing. In fact, this is usually the time of the year when they start thinking summer is around the bend and school is about O-V-E-R. (And, really I’m thinking after this testing, it is about over too!) So how do we keep our students engaged and make sure they do well on these standardized tests that are important and, in some cases, a determining factor in our evaluations?
While we should always be preparing our students for the EOY testing throughout the school year, it’s also important that we prepare them for the standardized test too. Standardized testing is a genre of its own. I do teach to the test and of the test. However, I don’t spend weeks on it, and I don’t dwell on it to the point of creating intense anxiety in my students. (And if you are feeling some anxiety, head over to my tips on getting through the testing season!)
Teaching Test-Taking Strategies
Students should be taught test-taking strategies throughout the school year with multiple texts, assignments, and projects. This is based on our standards. We need to pay close attention to our standards and note the verb that is used in it. If the standards say explain, that is how they will be expected to do it on the standardized test. If it says analyze or apply, they will be expected to analyze or be able to apply it, and so on.
Reviewing Test Question Formats
I always make sure that I go over with students the various types of test questions (multiple choice, open-ended response, essay, short answer, etc.) with my students, along with strategies on how to answer those types of questions. For instance, we know that with multiple choice students should read all the choices, eliminate answers that are not correct, etc. This is also a good time to review with students placing the question in the answer for short answer responses.
Reviewing Vocabulary Strategies
I always review with students ways to determine the meaning of words they are unfamiliar with (since there is always a word or two on the test they don’t know). I review breaking the word down into words or parts they know, using context clues, and analyzing the text for background knowledge to guess what would make sense. It’s also important to teach students test question terms such as: explain, define, summarize, analyze, infer, most likely, conclude, etc.
Reviewing Types of Questions
Together we review the types of questions in a text, such as the “Right There” questions (answers to questions that students can find all in one place in the text), “Think and Search” questions (answers to questions that students can find in multiple places in the text), and “Author and You” questions (answers to questions that involve the students using what they learned in the passage and what they know. We review these questions in passages by highlighting the answers for right there questions in green, think and search in yellow, and author and you in red.
Reviewing Idea + Attitude
The main idea is a huge thing in all texts, so I like to make sure that students think about that before they answer any questions. While I know it’s not always the case, I do like to remind students to read the beginning and end of a passage (and/or paragraphs) to check for the main idea. In fact, I often say look for the idea and the author’s attitude. If you have the idea and attitude down, you have a good start!
Engaging Test Prep
All of the above can be taught in engaging ways and reviewed in any of the ways below. The content for testing can also be considered in the ways below. The only limitation is your imagination! (Need more ideas? Check out this post found on Minds in Bloom!)
There are a variety of games that can be used to help with test prep from Jeopardy to Jenga to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, to my own game, Heartbreaker. Just complete a google search on Review Games for the Classroom, or search Pinterest.
Jeopardy Review Posters
Have students work in groups and create Jeopardy Review Posters. Then have them switch posters with another group and answer the questions for fun!
Gallery Walk or Chalk Talk
Have students move around the room and answer questions on chart paper that are hanging up (Gallery Walk) or on different grouped desks (chalk talk). Each student just initials next to their answer. You can write the question on the chart paper, or just hang a question from a task card on it. You can even have students write their answer on a post-it note and fold it over to avoid seeing other’s answers.
Have students play in teams and for each correct answer, they get to shoot a “trashket basket” for points!
Students can review in centers using task cards or past released tests.
Test Taking Motivators
There are many ways to motivate students before the test and even on test day. Don’t underestimate the need for these mini-motivators, nor assume your students are too old or that you don’t have time for them. These little things make a difference.
The Pep Talk
Provide students with the good old fashioned pep talk to help them understand that they CAN do this and they ARE smart enough to do their best! Write it on the board, say it, write them encouraging notes. However you want to do it, and do it often!
The Parent Letter
Have parents write a letter to their child (keep it a secret for best results!) to provide them on the first day of testing! It should be encouraging and motivating for the child. Be prepared, in case a parent hasn’t written one, to write one yourself.
We have all seen the testing treats. I have been doing them since at least 2007. It’s a sweet joy that they love to see on their desk each testing day when they arrive in their classroom.
Have students make Affirmation posters or notes to themselves or others encouraging each other and themselves that they will succeed! Hang them around the room leading up to the test. Even have students read it aloud regularly.
Changing It Up
Change up the routine when practicing your test prep by using dry erase markers, regular markers, scented markers, colored pens, or mini-whiteboards. Make it special and unique in some way.
Test prep should be occurring year round long before the testing season begins. In fact, I would suggest that as you get closer to “testing season” that you ease up a bit on the test prep. During the actual testing weeks, don’t try to teach anything new but instead allow those days to be more relaxed and fun. Students are going to be (or should be!) mentally exhausted from those tests.
Wishing the best for you and those tests!