Are your children asking to go to the bathroom every ten minutes? Are they sharpening their pencils until they’re just stubs? Have you sent more kids to the nurse in the last week than you have all year? It must be close to testing time!
In schools all over the country, teachers are preparing their students for standardized testing. This past week, I’ve noticed an increase in the complaints about students’ “escape” behaviors like bathroom breaks and pencil sharpening. I’ve also noticed a big increase in teachers’ stress levels. This is a tough time for teachers who often recognize the limitations of the tests in showing how much their students have learned, and who are increasingly being evaluated based on student test performance. Needless to say, this pressure and anxiety will actually hurt student performance and make teaching exhausting.
Here are some suggestions for taming the terror and keeping a peaceful climate while preparing your students for testing:
Take breaks. Plan short breaks frequently throughout the day, especially when children are doing seatwork or practice tests. Physical movement is important and can actually help children learn better. Stretch, jog in place, hold a few yoga poses, and breathe deeply. Set up a chime or timer to help you remember these short breaks.
Lighten the mood. Smile! Keep your own voice calm and assuring. Interject humor and help the children to laugh. Tell a few silly jokes, intersperse some funny comics into your seatwork, or use crazy character voices to give directions. Get out your “magic wand” and wave it around to transform the children into magical learners, or sprinkle confetti “pixie dust” around to provide learning energy. Shoot learning laser beams from your fingers. Have fun!
Stay positive. Point out that tests provide children the opportunity to show what they have learned. Avoid constantly mentioning how important the tests are, or threatening that children will not do well if they don’t work hard. One or two reminders – just to make sure children do their best – are plenty. More than that can cause stress and anxiety which will lower performance. Every five minutes acknowledge something positive that you notice a child doing to prevent misbehaviors.
Go outside. Take a walk around the school or around the block. Sing multiplication tables. Practice spelling patterns, chant compound words. Give yourself and the children some exercise, fresh air, and a chance to learn in a different environment.
Keep your perspective. Children need us to teach them that tests are only a small part of their learning experience. Take the time to show them how much they have learned this year – including their social and emotional skills such as being kind to others, working together in groups, calming themselves down, and staying focused, even when it’s hard! Take time to calm yourself if your own stress level is growing.
Plan special activities. Intersperse your hard work with special activities such as art projects, games, or reading a chapter of a special book. You all need something to look forward to and to reward yourselves with after long periods of focused work.
What other ways have you found to keep your classroom a positive learning environment while preparing for standardized tests? Please share with us in the comments!