Monday, April 27, 2015

5 Tips to Triumph over Test Prep

This post written by Angela Watson

Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers

Maintaining balance is impossible without a clearly defined vision for why you teach. No matter how others may choose to evaluate your work, you can’t define your own success as a teacher according to whether students pass a standardized test. That’s a recipe for frustration and burnout.

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This month on the Global Search for Education by Cathy Rubin, we are reflecting on How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom. I asked an amazing teacher, Angela Watson, to share her wisdom. Her show, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers, is my must-listen to podcast every Monday morning. She is a helpful part of my PLN and I hope you’ll add her to yours as well.

Manage Your Mindset

Instead, go into the classroom each day with a single-minded focus on making a difference for kids or igniting a passion for your subject matter. Having this kind of clear vision for teaching will permeate everything you do in the classroom. It will bring a deeper sense of purpose to otherwise disheartening test prep activities. It will help you maintain your (bigger, healthier) perspective even if everyone around you is anxious about test scores.

Staying focused on your vision will also help you keep your enthusiasm, which makes learning more enjoyable for kids. If you’re stressed out from focusing too much on high stakes assessment, students will sense that, and it creates anxiety in them, too.

Motivate Students in Positive Ways

One of the best things you can do for students is to stop reminding them about the importance of standardized tests. I used to get very stressed out because I felt like I cared more about my kids’ scores than most of them did, so I would constantly remind them, “You need to know this–the test is in 2 months! If you don’t pass this test, you’re going to be in third grade again next year!”

I cringe when I think back on how much I pressured my students. Kids need to know the importance of the test, but more importantly, they need to know the importance of learning and hard work. Stay focused on getting them motivated and helping them take ownership of their learning.

Practice Tested Skills in a Non-Test Prep Format

Students do need to know test-taking strategies and be familiar with the format of the standardized tests they’ll be taking, but most kids don’t need daily (or even weekly) exposure to the format. Look for creative ways to help kids practice tested skills in authentic, meaningful contexts.

Experiment with alternative strategies for implementing the test prep activities and worksheets you’re mandated to give. Here are 5 ideas:

  1. Problem solve collaboratively. Instead of passing out a review worksheet each day as a warm up, occasionally project the page for your class to see, and have them work with a partner to solve problems collaboratively and talk about their strategies.
  2. Make it a game. Try reviewing the answers together in a fun game format. Have kids award themselves a point for each answer they get right, and challenge themselves to reach a set number of points by the end of the month.
  3. Get kids moving. Set up test prep questions in a “scoot” format so students can stand up and move in between answering questions.
  4. Use individual dry erase boards. As you display each problem for the class to solve, have kids write on their boards and hold them up for you to give immediate verbal feedback.
  5. Screencast. If you have iPads in your classroom, students can use a free app like Show Me to explain their thinking and record their work.

Simple strategies like these keep you and your students from feeling overburdened with worksheets, and help integrate test prep seamlessly into the more meaningful activities you do in class.

Ultimately, we teach students, not standards. You are more than a test score, and so are your students. Don’t wait for someone in your district or state to reiterate that: make it true in your daily practice!

Maintaining balance is impossible without a clearly defined vision for why you teach.

Angela Watson is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience. In 2009, she turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she’s created 4 books, 2 webinars, a blog, podcast, curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world.

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