June 3, 2016

Start your test prep ASAP!

Testing overload. No doubt about it. Between district testing for some, in addition to state testing, it feels difficult to justify giving our poor students a chapter test too… and it just doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Perhaps some aren’t feeling the stress, but most teachers and students I know are just flat burnt out on testing. Teaching 5th grade for 6 years has given me a heavy dose of this reality.

As if the number of tests aren't enough, math and science questions are usually embedded in a sea of reading. If a child struggles to read and understand what the question is asking, how can they solve the math problem buried in it? It is so important to help students learn to problem solve and think critically, with or without high-stakes testing. I start helping my students prepare from about the third week of school. You may be thinking that is overkill and too early… but not when done properly. If anything, it has helped my students to become confident test takers with far less stress. We work on specific routines that don’t actually feel much like test prep, and we practice all year long. I feel that it is about helping students to form good habits long term, not slamming strategies in shortly before, which can add to the stress of the test. 

I would like to share with you how I help my students prepare all year, with low anxiety and great success. The guided toolkit I will refer to is a collection of strategies and procedures that I have put together to increase my students’ success in problem solving multiple choice word problems. They may seem like common sense, and they probably are! However, I believe that many teachers are looking for help in implementing test-taking strategies at a variety of grade levels. 

***So how do I do it? Through a Question of the Day routine with specific critical-thinking, problem solving strategies. Oh, and you will see that this becomes STUDENT-LED, so the focus is on keeping students on track while letting them do the thinking!***

Imagine this: one of your students is standing at the front of the room with the projector displaying the Question of the Day. The students have already worked the problem out on their own paper. Today’s student leader is calling on students and leading the class through each strategy while discussing the “how” and “why” for each decision they make. You have a backseat role as you observe how awesome your students really are as they work together to problem-solve. Occasionally you throw in the assist and do what a teacher does best, but overall, they are running the show. I LOVE watching my students get better at this all throughout the year and they LOVE when it is their turn to be the “teacher.”

* First, I introduce students to the critical thinking, problem-solving strategies that students can rely on and use all year long. Click here to get my test-taking strategies posters FREE!!! I have created a gradual release PowerPoint presentation to guide both teacher and students through this process (YOU learn along with your kiddos!) 


* Students receive a strategies guide card (laminate them to use over and over with an Expo marker!) they use to mark off each strategy as they work through their Question of the Day problem. Eventually they won’t need this anymore, but they like to be able to follow step-by-step at the beginning. 

* Use the first two weeks of questions in my toolkit (or any questions you find beneficial) and work through one each day using the student guide card. You lead for the first day or two, and then gradually let students begin to take over. The two-week set (10 days) of questions are focused on “Making Inferences in Science.” The questions are based on my Making Inferences in Science Task Cards.

Of course, this is just a very brief overview of how it works, so check out the PREVIEW HERE to see more!

Please note, these strategies are intended for multiple-choice questions, but as I will mention later, can also be adapted to fit other types of questions as well. This resource is intended to be a GUIDE, not a perfect to-do list. It is NOT research-based. It is simply a resource I created to share what has worked for me in MY classroom with MUCH practice throughout the year. 
(I make no claims that you will see increased test scores by using this resource, but if you read feedback from teachers that have purchased my toolkit, you’ll see they love it!) 

The most important piece of advice is to start as soon as you can and PRACTICE every day if possible, or at least most days. This lends itself perfectly to morning work time. The idea is to develop habits so that come test time, students are ready to tackle the challenge and hopefully won’t feel nearly as anxious.  It takes a bit of the edge off for you too. J

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