Sunday, May 10, 2015

Powerful and Tantalizing Test Prep

"In an era of... testing frenzy, we are failing to inspire our children's curiosity, creativity, and imagination. We are denying the opportunities to tinker, discover, and explore - in short, to play." 
- Darrell Hammond 

This week I really struggled with what to my blog topic should be. I have two really cool activities coming up that I want to blog about, but those are still a few weeks away. I decided to reflect upon what is currently going on in my classroom and I determined that it is a lot of test prep.

Hold your gasps! While many other teachers have been throwing worksheet after worksheet at kids in aims of getting them ready for the Standards of Learning tests (SOLs) at the end of the year, I have chosen not to do this. I don't feel that this is the most effective way to prepare students for these tests. Yes, I do understand that seeing the format of tests are important, but I feel that taking away creative activities is a larger detriment than the gains of traditional test prep.

Do not get me wrong, I am not saying all tests and data instruments are evil. I believe it is important for the teachers to know what the students know and how effective their instruction is. However, I do not think the SOL should be the only measure. Not all students test well; we should respect and honor this. This week, and the upcoming weeks (and all year long,) we have/will be participating in a number of fun and engaging activities for review, including:

Scoot in action. Notice the yarn.
Scoot: In this game, I cut up a practice test and put one problem on each desk. I laid down yard to make a path for the students to follow. At each desk, they are given 4-5 minutes to respond to the question. They mark an answer document for me to review later. At the end of the time, I call out, "SCOOT!" and they move to the next desk. The students liked this activity, but needed some help in figuring out the rotation initially. 

BoardRush template
BoardRush: Imagine a giant tic-tac-toe board on a SmartBoard. Students work together to respond to prompts in each square. On blue squares, I wrote questions for students to answer. Orange square had fill-in-the-blank questions. The students had to write questions that would result in the word. They write their answers on Stickies and put them on the Board. I check them and "close" the square after two correct answers. The goal is to get five in a row. You can see my students playing it here!
The yellow cards are their Plickers

Plickers: This is a fantastic new app that requires only one device to use. The students each get a square that looks like a QR code, called a Plicker (paper clicker.) I project a question on the SmartBoard and the students hold up and orient their Plicker to reflect A B C or D or T/F. I scan it with my phone and get real time results. They really like this activity, and I make a big deal of students who get questions right when the rest were incorrect. 

Sidewalk Race. I can quickly see who is prepared. 
Sidewalk Race: We've only done this once, but I will be sure to repeat it! I took the students outside and put them all on one sidewalk square. I asked them a question, they wrote it on their whiteboards, and held it up. Correct answers allowed them to move up one square, while wrong answers forced them to move back one square. We had quite a few major upsets and underdogs in this game!

Move Around the Room: This game is simplicity in its finest form. I write A B C and D around the room and ask a question. Students physically move to their desired answer and it allows me to quick check their understanding. I make a point to say to go with their what they think is the right answer versus going with where their friends go.

I Have, Who Has: This game involves more set up. I took all of their history content and wrote them into questions, such as "Who has the man elected to the presidency in 1860, which resulted in southern states seceding?" Another student has a card that says "I have Abraham Lincoln," and another clue. The game continues until it gets back to start. Our current class record is 3 minutes 45 seconds for 26 clues. You can check out a video of the game here.

SWAT in action
SWAT: Set up is required for this game too. I type up a bunch of vocab words/answers to math facts and call out a clue/math problem. After I say "SWAT!" students whirl around and try to swat the correct answer with a flyswatter. Meanwhile, students in the audience are writing answers on their whiteboards to show to me. 

You will see none of these activities require the students to sit around and do lots of worksheets. They are more engaging and movement based, which helps them to create better connections in their minds and foster a sense of fun. As one final culminating activity for VA Studies, we will be playing Survivor, which will involve knowing content, teamwork, speed, and twists and turns.

Author's Note: I wrote about Survivor and one more idea for review games in May 2017. Check them out here.

As a final note, please keep my students in your thoughts. We will be taking our tests on 5/18, 5/20, 5/27 and 5/28, and I know the students could benefit from support and encouragement from my PLN. Many of them are extremely stressed due to these tests. I have done everything in my power to limit their stress, but they know that these tests are important. I find it sad how everything stops to a grinding halt when we get into testing season. I fear it poisons students' love for learning, which is more important than a single test. I constantly tell my students that I expect them to try their best, and that will be enough for me. 

In addition to this stress, the students are not allowed to be proctored by me, because of cheating that occurred in a different school than mine last year. I am concerned that the students might not do as well without their number one fan in the room, but I have ingrained in them that I will always be there in spirit. 

Additionally, the VA DOE granted ability to have expedited retakes. This would allow students who failed the test to retake the entire test. Not just one section, but the entire 40-60 questions all over again. The entire school had to shift our entire test schedule up 10 days to accommodate for this. It angers me because I could be using those days to prepare the students more, and hopefully lessen the need for a retake. I do not think that 10 year olds should have to sit through an entire second tests. 

In conclusion, I do not think testing is inherently evil. I see the value in it and believe some testing/accountability is necessary. However, I think modern-day education has overdone this need. My students will have taken over 30 tests this year that were mandated by the county or state. This does not even include tests the grade level gives for report card grades. At some point, it becomes too much. My final thought is this:

Are we teaching kids to love learning or 
are we teaching them to become test takers?

What are your views on testing? How do you teach your students to be "bigger than the test" and instill resiliency? 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you and I hope others will join this enlightening bandwagon. Thanks for sharing other ways to make learning a creative endeavor.