Celebration of Learning|
by Kim Tracy
During my years in school, as my teachers would prepare us for the upcoming standardized tests I would freeze. Even during SAT time, although I was in Honors classes, I froze up and did not score as well as I should have scored. In undergrad school, I scored the highest possible on my Praxis tests so I thought for sure I had overcome this testing anxiety. However, in graduate school, I once again was faced with a standardized test, the MAT, and barely got by in order to continue my studies. I do have a fear of tests and I recognize those anxieties. All of these experiences helped me become a better educator and to understand the fear my students are placed under in my fifth grade classroom. Being an educator in North Carolina, I am well aware of the testing pressures as our students grade advancement and our jobs are placed on the line according to how well our students test. Is that fair or justified?
When push comes to shove, I have two choices in my classroom. I can either complain about the testing, raise the anxieties of my students, and produce a high level of stress in the classroom or I can turn this opportunity into a learning experience for both my students and myself. The first choice is one in which no one benefits. The second one is one that is more optimal for a learning environment. How do I do this without compromising my feelings regarding testing while still maintaining a sense of getting something accomplished?
First, I have to recognize my concerns with testing. Is it the testing itself? No, it is not the testing. I feel that it holds not only myself accountable but my students accountable. Is it fair to hold someone as young as eight accountable for extrinsic factors such as lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and poor study habits? No, it is not and that is where our tests fail. There is not a section where I am able to mark any of those factors, nor is there a place to mark, "Please excuse this child's scores because he was up all night cause daddy was dealing drugs and mom was off with who knows who." I also continue to look for that space to check off, "Mary should not be held accountable because she did not come to school but half the year and our county does not have a truancy officer."
Along with me desperately looking for those areas to mark on the test, my main concerns with testing are the testing environments that we subject our students to each year. Child development and the latest brain research has clearly stated that our bodies need breaks more frequently. It has shown that our brains become dehydrated at a rapid rate and needs access to water. We are all familiar with that fight or flight syndrome when we do not have our basic needs provided, including water. Our brains begin to shut down and we do not give ourselves the most productive learning situations. Furthermore, brains become stagnant and our neurons need jump starts, or movements to get them going again. Those breaks need to come about every twelve to fifteen minutes, therefore the breaks every 35 minutes or so, as in my testing situation, are not giving my students the best testing taking situation.
As any productive educator, I have written my school board regarding my concerns as well as contacted my state department. I believe educators should be vocal and should protect the rights of our students because we are the ones that are in the class with them and are ultimately in charge of their learning. However, in being my students number one advocate, I can also be a positive role model to them regarding testing. There are strategies that can be used in the classroom throughout the year that will produce less anxiety for our students and less pressures regarding testing.
Test? What test? It is a Celebration of Learning. When I do something outstanding in my classroom or when my students design projects for a particular subject, we show it off to everyone either by the newspaper coming or by placing projects in the library or in the hallway for the world to see. After working all year on any subject area should we not be proud of what we have learned? Don't we want to show the world what we have learned and be proud of it? DEFINITELY! Testing time becomes a Celebration of Learning! We are ready to show everyone that we have worked hard and we know our "stuff!" After each six weeks, before any pre and post tests, and before the state mandated tests, we play the song by Kool and The Gang, "Celebration." Dancing around to this song, gets my students pumped up and excited about the upcoming tests. It forces them in a positive state of being which is where I want them to be before going into a test.
There have been many that have argued against testing that is held periodically during the year. I view these six weeks assessments and other testing times as opportunities for me to understand where my students are and what I need to work on. As I get a whole group of students that have failed in certain areas, I become frustrated just as any teacher does in that situation. Why aren't they listening? I taught it a million times! Yes, I might have, however I must not have taught it to my students learning modalities or else it would have been retained in their long term memory. Instead of becoming exasperated with this situation, I use it as a learning opportunity to zero in on areas I need to reteach or provide additional tutoring during after school tutoring. By using testing analysis, I am able to pinpoint exactly the needs of my students. This should be seen as a positive aspect, not a negative one.
Most importantly, my students will have the same attitude regarding testing that I have in front of them. If I discuss it in a negative manner, my students will view it as something negative and will go into the test with a negative attitude. This will produce the reverse of what I am trying to accomplish! Attitude is everything in these situations. Having a positive attitude going into the test will give students the confidence they need to overcome their testing fears. Again, I fall back on the excitement of the Celebration of Learning and promote that throughout the year.
Strategies to use on testing day are going to vary depending on the age level that one teaches. The following strategies that I use in my classroom have been shared at Brain Compatible Learning workshops that I facilitate for K-12 educators and high school teachers have reported that although they thought it was silly doing some of them, the students thought it was humorous. Remember, humor in the classroom will always produce positive results. Going into the tests with smiles on their faces, will help students release their anxieties. (For more on humor in the classroom, read "Laughing All The Way" in the December issue of The Gazette)
In my classroom, I have magic bubbles that are known around the school. They were left on my desk by the testing fairy four years ago. When blown over the students' heads right before their standardized test, it brings good luck to them. I also have a magic wand that I wave over their heads that releases more knowledge into their brains if they squint their eyes and concentrate as I am waving it over their heads. One year, magic glitter was tossed over them before testing. All these ideas were simple to do, yet brought laughter, smiles and eagerness into the students before the state tests. The bubbles are regular bubbles that I took the label off the jar. The wand is a yardstick wrapped in masking tape with streamers attached to the end with the slogan "The Power Is Within" written down the side of the yardstick. The glitter was a big canister of glitter with the label peeled off. Another idea that was sent to me by Nancy Salsman, an educator in Oklahoma, is one that I am looking forward to doing this year for my students - Magic Slippers. Read this month's interview in The Gazette with Nancy regarding her Magic Slippers.
Testing can be what we make it as educators in our classroom. We either chose to make it a positive experience or we chose to make it a negative one. While still promoting fair and accurate testing in our classrooms, we must give our students every opportunity to succeed in the classroom, including times we must give state mandated tests. Educators do not have to compromise their standards when preparing students for high stakes testing. We can provide higher order thinking skills needed throughout the year. Also, we can use assessments during the year as learning opportunities, and we can Celebrate Learning at the end of the year. All strategies to produce the best learning environment and the most productive testing experience for our students.
Test Success Chat...
Review our Brain-Compatible Classroom chat on Test Success by Rita King held Wednesday, February 2, 2000 in the