by Sue Gruber, M.A.
Barbara Gruber Courses for Teachers www.bgrubercourses.com
Regular contributor to the Gazette
February 1, 2009
Doesn’t it feel like our whole nation has gone test crazy? Pick up a newspaper anywhere in the country and you’ll find something about test scores. I’m sure the day will come when test scores are finally deemed high enough. What will the issues be then? Here's my prediction—the media will report about a generation of students who can only take tests and can’t “think” and solve real life problems! The pendulum will swing and the push will be for project-based, hands-on, cooperative learning! Stay in education long enough and you’ll experience the swings as educational trends come and go and then come back again with new names! The good news is you will eventually use all of your materials again! It may be decades later, but you’ll need them! Don’t throw anything away!
No matter how teachers feel about standardized tests, one thing is clear—they aren’t going away. Children are going to be tested. Help your students perform better on tests by teaching specific test-taking skills. Here are some easy ways to help your students feel relaxed and prepared for standardized testing without creating extra work for yourself.
Time to Listen
If children are fidgeting with items inside their desks or doodling with their pencils, you do not have their full attention. This classroom-management strategy teaches your students how to pay attention when you say “Time to listen.” This is an easy routine to teach your class and it comes in handy when giving directions for taking tests. Model for your students how you want them to position themselves when you give directions. For example, when the teacher says “Time to listen,” children must fold their hands on desktops, look at the teacher and listen. As soon as directions are given, the teacher can say “Time to work” to signal children to start working. Teach this routine to the class and have students practice this important routine so it becomes automatic. You’ll use this classroom management technique every day all through the year.
All About Tests
Talk with your class about the kinds of tests people take throughout their lives such as tests for employment and driver’s licensing tests. Share some of your test-taking experiences. Tell the class how you feel when you have to take the test to renew your driver’s license. Have children talk about feelings they have experienced during tests. Help children understand that they will take tests from time to time throughout their lives. Learning to take tests is a life skill everyone needs to learn.
When children have a better understanding of tests, they are more relaxed during testing. Explain to the class that there are many kinds of tests. Tell the class about teacher-created tests. Explain that the tests tell teachers if children understand concepts or if teachers need to teach them again. When you give a teacher-created test, you can tell your class, “I created this test to help me figure out if you understand two-place multiplication. Then, I’ll know if we need to spend more time working on it.” Tell the class about commercially-made tests that the school district buys from testing companies. Tell children what the school is trying to figure out from the test results. Let children know that tests are designed with some questions that are purposely too hard for them to answer.
Many children feel very alone when they take tests. They believe they are the only ones who feel nervous and don’t know all the answers. After testing, hold a class discussion about the tests. It is reassuring to hear about feelings and concerns classmates experienced during testing.
Taking Timed Tests
You can alleviate test anxiety by giving children certain experiences as part of the regular instructional program. Many tests are timed; therefore, children need experience working within a variety of time limits. It’s a good idea to have timed test and time limited experiences once or twice a week all through the year. Math fact tests for addition, subtraction or multiplication work well for short timed tests. Try setting time limits ranging from fifteen to thirty minutes during other work times in your classroom. Children become familiar with having a specific number of minutes to work and learn when they need to work more quickly. When they take timed tests during standardized testing, it’s not a stressful experience—they are already experienced at working within time limits.
Many children know the answers but are confused by standardized test formats and mark answers incorrectly. Look at the formats on the tests your students take. Do they include multiple choice, filling in bubbles beside correct answers, solving problems on scratch paper and transferring answers to an answer sheet or drawing lines to match questions and answers? Give students practice using similar formats to the test formats they will encounter. Look at the reproducible products about test-taking skills available on line and in school supply stores.
If your test program includes practice tests, use them according to the directions provided by the test publisher. If permissible, after taking the practice tests, go over the tests together. Discuss the test formats and anything that was confusing about the tests. This is an opportunity to focus on reading and following directions, writing answers properly and working within time limits.
If commercial tests include multiple choice questions, be sure to include multiple choice questions in teacher-created tests. Then, children will be familiar with multiple choice questions and answers. When discussing stories, write multiple choice questions on the chalkboard and work together as a group answering those questions. Model for students how to read the question, underline key words in the question, read the possible answers, eliminate answers you know are wrong, and choose the correct answer.
Words and phrases used on tests can also confuse children. They know the concepts but the terminology on the tests gets in the way of understanding how to answer questions. Be sure to use some of those “test” words and phrases in the context of your lessons so children know what they mean.
Sue Gruber taught the upper grades for years. In a moment of wild abandon, she decided to take the plunge and teach the grade she feared most—kindergarten! Sue just wrapped up her eleventh year in kindergarten and loves it. Who knows, the next grade level change might be to sixth grade!
Sue Gruber and Barbara Gruber, a mother-daughter writing team, have created dozens of products for Frank Schaffer Publications, Scholastic, The Education Center and other publishers. Barbara is a former teacher who was employed by Frank Schaffer Publications from l980 to l996. She developed and presented curriculum seminars nationwide for K-6 teachers.
Sue and Barbara launched Barbara Gruber Online Courses for Teachers in 2002. They personally write each course with today’s students and busy teachers in mind. Teachers can do coursework completely on their own, or, if they wish, interact on line with others. They can earn one, two or three semester units from University of the Pacific. Barbara and Sue provide practical strategies and ideas that can be put into action immediately without creating more work for teachers. Barbara and Sue have created exactly what teachers are looking for—teacher-friendly courses at affordable prices. You can find out about their courses at www.bgrubercourses.com
Sue teaches full time, manages Barbara Gruber Courses for Teachers and loves writing for the Teachers.Net Gazette. She lives in Sonoma County with her husband and son. Barbara consults for Barbara Gruber Courses for Teachers; however, she has “retired” from the business. Retirement for Barbara means she’s busier than ever in Healdsburg, California on a 25-acre working farm called Healdsburg Country Gardens. She and her husband are grape growers for local wineries, have three guest houses for visitors and host wine country weddings.