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Oh, testing. How you are the bane of all teacher’s existence. I get it – your students need to do well. You rely on it, the school relies on it, the district relies on it, and the state relies on it. No pressure, right? Wrong. State testing is increasingly one of the most stressful times of a teacher’s year. Today I’m sharing my favorite tips for attempting to relieve a little bit of that testing insanity. Be sure to share your suggestions in the comment below!
Get your students excited for testing days! They may not love taking the test, but they will love mints, fun pencils, and winning prizes! Every year during the testing season I would reach out to parents for donations of fun prizes (or cash to purchase prizes) and then I would buy raffle tickets like THESE! We typically had 2 hours for each test. Students that worked consistently until the 1-hour mark would all receive one ticket. Students that consistently worked until 1 hour and 30 minutes would receive another ticket. Students that worked until
the 2 hours mark would win two more tickets. This encouraged students to recheck their work, not be the first to finish and take their time. Immediately after the test, I would choose three tickets to play games on the computer right away (or something they were excited about). We would also raffle off bigger prizes (like a Kindle!) or lunch purchased by me from a nearby restaurant, or a new notebook! The awards didn’t have to be too crazy. Students just like anything that’s a little different.
I also made sure to purchase my own FUN #2 pencils (approved by my principal) and then I would decorate them with silly stickers, pencil grippers, eraser toppers and I would give each student a heavy duty eraser! Before testing, I walked around with my bag of pencils and large erasers and let students choose 2 to use during that test. After testing, the pencils were immediately sharpened by a volunteer and then placed back into the bags for the next day of testing. It was simple, but it made testing a little more magical.
I also had no limit on how many mints students could consume while testing. If they wanted ten spearmints and five peppermints, they got them! I started off by giving students 2 of whichever flavor they wanted. But if they asked for more, later on, I would happily oblige. It’s the little things, y’all!
Work hard, play hard. That’s pretty much been my motivation for life. I believe profoundly in both and strive to reach a healthy balance. I felt the same way for my students. We would work hard in the classroom, but with the understanding that we would get to do fun things as well. An extra recess here and there, lunch outside or in the classroom, a morning playing a team building game, etc. I made the most of our time together and let students know that they needed to as well. Being upfront about the schedule and rigor of the day, helped them prepare and adjust. It also meant we were preparing for tests from the start of the year. End of year tests should be as important as all other tests, and we would prepare as such! This meant that test-taking time was just another routine assessment. State tests don’t have to be stressful if your students feel prepared.
Preparing all year meant I needed high-quality materials! I couldn’t cruise through November without preparing my students for the Spring test. That did them (nor I) any favors. I made sure that my students were comfortable writing to prompts by creating a well thought out writing curriculum and systematic on-demand writing environment. I am in love with anything Lucy Calkins and even created my own writing units. By using a rigorous curriculum and periodic prompts, like these monthly test prep units from my store, I was able to get students comfortable answering any sort of writing prompt. It’s all about pacing and making sure students are faced with high expectations year round! A few months before the state test, I would gear them up with a little test prep unit, so that they could wrap their minds around what was expected of them.
I’ve been at schools with super involved parents and I’ve been at schools where parents are MIA. You’re always going to have a few of each, no matter where you teach! I’m not sure about you, but if I’m nervous, a little support from someone who cares about me goes a LONG way. The same goes for students. I would send home a letter to parents about 2-3 weeks before testing began asking them to send in a message for every day of testing. In Colorado, 5th graders had 14 tests to take. Insanity. So I asked for 14 different letters from student’s families. They could be pictures drawn by siblings, encouragement written by parents, scribbled notes from grandparents… anything. Then I would have them seal each letter up in an envelope with the student’s name on it and send them back into me in a Ziploc bag or large folder. Whatever students didn’t get all 14 letters or didn’t get any letters at all got letters from me, their previous teachers, their PE teacher, etc.! You can find more details about this in my Motivational Testing Letter + Note Freebie on TpT.
Do gimmicks drive anyone else insane? I had so many new students who would come in and try to write an essay based on OREO… but they wouldn’t have any idea what it stood for… or what type of prompt they should use OREO with. I firmly believe that teaching should be just that… teaching. Students don’t need “tricks” to learn. They need to see high-quality writing samples. They need to roll their sleeves up and look for author’s craft. They need to immerse themselves in other writers. They do not need to memorize another acronym. I fully believe that students get more confused when we try to simplify things for them. Just teach them what good writing should look like, continuously model it for them, and support them along the way! They’ll become students who LOVE to write… and what’s more motivational than that?
If you’re still with me, THANKS! I know this post was a mouthful. I would love to hear your tips and tricks during the testing season! Please leave them in the comments below so we can all grow and support our kiddos!