When you ask a teacher what is generally the bane of his or her existence each year, many will say...TESTING. Their entire year culminates in this one series of exams that will either make or break not only their students, but them as well. This stress radiates from the teachers to the students and hangs a big black cloud over the school year. Here are some tips to keeping the stress down and still acing those pesky standardized tests!
1. Teach Beyond the Basics
Research states that more relevant concepts tend to be more easily remembered than less relevant concepts. Teaching concepts in an endless stream to your students will increase their chances of forgetting more. If you present the concepts in a way that is meaningful or relevant, you will have more success with your students retaining information. My favorite example is math formulas. I can't tell you how many times throughout my life a teacher has given me a formula and just told me to remember it. What those teachers did was put the pressure on me. "You need to learn this formula to succeed in this class." Forget understanding the formula or being able to recreate it. I was just supposed to memorize it. Memorizing facts...sound at all like every standardized test in existence? The teachers that took the time to explain the origin of the formulas better ensured my success in the future. If I ever forgot a formula, it was always possible to conceptualize the problem in order to find the solution another way. Obviously this doesn't work with everything, but the more explanation you give something, the more relevant and meaningful it becomes to your students. Thus, the easier it is to remember.
2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
The same research shows that people who had repeated opportunities to learn information forgot up to 50% less than the people who only learned it once. Find ways for repeated exposure and application of the material being learned. The more they see it, the more they recognize it, and the more meaningful it becomes; taking us back to the assertions made in point 1. Repetition isn't the only thing that matters, however. Process matters as well.
3. Mix It Up
You will see this as a trend throughout our blog posts. Music, drama, dance, games, all of these are incredibly underrated tools in the classroom. You can read more about that here. We also have an entire page of articles relating to fun in the classroom. In a study done by the Department of Music at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, it was determined that music has a more successful impact on the brain because of the numerous areas of the brain that are targeted when music is played. Children's motor, auditory, and limbic systems become engaged when they listen to music. We have found success in Scoot and Brain Bounce games as a form of assessment. This article from the DANA foundation gives great insight regarding all the arts and how they inform cognitive development. This is what we are all about and dedicate ourselves tirelessly to achieving in our products. Here is the foundational stream of logic: when a child is having fun, it accesses the limbic system in his or her brain, making him or her more open to the learning that is taking place. Music, drama, and dance all target multiple modalities, further cementing the information in the mind of any learner.
4. Circumvent Syntax
Ok, we've got the learning part down. What do you do, though, when a student knows all he or she needs to know and still has trouble with the test? I ran into this issue with my ELL's (english language learners) about 5 years ago as a long-term sub. We were solving math problems from past standardized tests. I began by writing the problem on the board. When I asked for a volunteer to solve it, I heard crickets. I then isolated the math equation from the context of the word problem. Several hands immediately shot up. No child should be doomed to fail a test because he or she doesn't understand the wording of the question. The best way to combat this is obviously to practice with sample standardized tests. Pull out small groups at a time to do this so that you can make sure students aren't falling through the cracks. Have them take turns reading a question. Have them highlight the words they understand. Then, have them tell you what they think the question is asking. If a student misunderstands, see if another student can help him or her out. Here are some common terms students should know. Here is a FREEBIE of common Language Arts and Math words.
Specifically with Math problems, I would have students take turns writing out the proper equation in addition to highlighting important words. You could even have the students organize their work with given information, information that needs to be determined, and "word clues" that point to the operation being used.
Here it is in visual form:
provided by: ohboy3rdgrade
Here are some keywords to start with:
provided by: youngteacherslove
5. Focus on the Positive
"Students often go into survival mode when they feel threatened by an overwhelming cognitive task or confusing text, or when they are called on and don't know the answer, or are confronted or teased by another student (or a teacher!) Can one even learn in such a setting?" Alber 2013 Testing has become a sink or swim, pass or fail, smart or stupid endeavor. Students are subjected to so much stress that it creates a roadblock between the valuable information and their brains. Conversely, "when we don't feel threatened at all, we have a willingness to be vulnerable, to be open to new ideas and guidance from others -- the ideal learning scenario!" Alber 2013. I encourage you to read the article and subscribe to the site. I have found countless treasures on it. One of the most important ways to assure your students' success is to make sure they are ENJOYING learning. Find whatever way suits your classroom best. I again reiterate point 3. There are numerous ways to get outside conventional learning and release those dopamine centers in your kiddos' brains. And come test time, don't stress and they won't stress. Here is a free stress activity you can do with your kids. You are a good teacher, you have done everything in your power to get the information through. Relax and watch them succeed!