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De-Stress THE TEST!

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So, the time for standardized testing has nearly arrived.  Kids across the country will soon spend hours carefully filling in bubbles with #2 pencils, or writing essays in response to a specific prompt, or writing out a specific explanation of the steps and calculations used to solve a math problem. Despite all the teaching and learning that took place in the days before, together with the constant and sometimes frantic test prep, this is a stressful time for families of students and teachers, for teachers and, primarily, for students.

This week’s teaching tip focuses on ways to de-stress the classroom and keep students motivated.  It also includes some ideas to help families and kids handle the stress of testing days.

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Helping the Classroom Community “Chill”

The kids know the test is important – to them, to their teachers, and to their school.  They’ve been working steadily and often by the first day of testing, they are apprehensive and anxious.  And for good reason:  everyone has been telling them (for months!) that they MUST “do their best on the test.”  A good dose of adrenalin might help kids focus, but true worry and fear can block the ability to think clearly and rationally.

There’s nothing like having a kid enter the classroom and vomit all over her desk because of nervous agitation.  Not an auspicious start to bubbling in the circles for anyone in that classroom.

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Here is a list of ideas to help your students keep it together so that they can deal with the unavoidable stress of high-stakes testing:

The Power of Positive Thinking:  Students, no matter where they fall in terms of quartiles, should believe in their ability to perform on the test. Teachers, you’ve prepared your students.  Parents, you’ve helped your kids with homework all year.  The week before the test, it is time to talk about the worry and then throw it out the window.  Let them know you believe in them and their ability.  Remind them that you’ve been working to reach this point all year – there is nothing to worry about. And remind them, it’s about the learning.  Period.  Tests tell us what we know, what we don’t know and what we still need to learn.  That’s it.

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Empowering Pre-Test Activities:  Our students are so resourceful and so darn clever.  To empower them, which in turn will help them manage their stress levels, two days before testing give them a fun task to create in collaborative groups.  There is so much “shhhh” on test days – let them use this pre-test time to engage and talk together while working.  Some ideas of collaborative projects which can be adapted easily to your classroom or school needs:

  • Create a video: Students can rewrite the lyrics of a popular, upbeat song and then record themselves performing it. Some schools have gone so far as making a school-wide video: Test Taker Face  and Hunger Games: Testing Version.  Post on your school’s website.
  • Share test-taking strategies with a partner classroom:  Partner with a teacher of a different grade and have the older students mentor the younger students on test taking strategies and advice.  Empowers all ages and builds school community.
  • Poetry and Posters:  Students could partner or work in small groups to create poetry about testing and then publishing the work in a poster to be displayed on a school bulletin board.
  • School-wide Pep Rally: Watch your video(s) at the school-wide rally where kids have a poetry jam using the poetry they’ve written or give motivational speeches on rocking the test and the principal tells all students that he/she knows they all will do well.  Not too preachy – just fun.
  • Mindfulness Practice:  Work  together as a classroom community on breathing exercises and even some guided meditation a couple of days beforehand and then on the day of the test to help students be centered and focused.  Here’s a link to a blog called “Kid’s Relaxation” with short guided meditation scripts free of charge.

Standardized Tests

The Powerful Parent Connection Enlist your parents – they want to help.  A couple of months before testing, after being besieged by moms and dads who wanted to know how to get their children ready for the test, we sent home this letter: Parent Test Prep Letter.  It gave them some ideas for supporting kids during the months  prior to the test.  A couple of days before the test, send your parents a letter reminding them of the testing window, encouraging them to get their kids to bed early (importance of a good night’s rest), stating the need for a good breakfast (but not too heavy), and stressing the importance of arriving at school on time.

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Test Day Decompressors:  Here is a list of some potential supports for the days you actually test:

  • Distribute sport-sized water bottles and mints to each student to have on hand during the test (peppermint may stimulate brain activity).  
  • Some classrooms may respond to tapes of ocean waves or other natural sounds (I would avoid running water as that might increase trips to the bathroom).  
  • Use Guided Meditation, Breathing and Stretching Exercises (see above and our prior post on yoga in the classroom)worry stones
  • Present Worry Stones: I used worry stones in my classroom and would distribute them to my students prior to the start of the test as part of a mindfulness routine and to help ease the tension in the room.  I would use smooth stones or jewels from the dollar store or target and wrap them with a card that had a worry stone saying on one side and an encouraging personal note to each student on the other.  You can also make your own stones using clay as shown here.  Here’s a template of the poem I used: Worry Stone Poem.  I explained that if you hold a worry stone between  the index finger and thumb, rubbing them is believed to lessen one’s worries.  This action is a stim which usually creates feelings of calmness, reduces stress levels and encourages focus during testing.  My students loved the ritual around the worry stones (I solemnly passed them out to each student the first day of testing) and some of the younger kids who came into my class the following year asked for them prior to testing. Here’s a great read-aloud to use prior to testing:worry stone
  • Have on hand Relaxing stuff to do after the test but before everyone else is finished:  Coloring sheets (Mandalas), crossword puzzles, word searches, and glyphs are great options.  Materials should be organized and handy so that there is minimal movement in the classroom while other kids are finishing up testing.  I found that these activities were soothing and calming, especially coloring!
  • Don’t forget the SNACKS/TREATS as a pre-test AND post-test incentive!  Take a look at these really cute ideas for testing treats and explore Pinterest for others.  Here are photos of a couple of other ideas: 
      test day incentive2Test day incentive

A Final Note to Familes and Friends of Teachers:  Testing days are stressful for students and for teachers.  It might be a good time to nurture the teacher in your life:  Bring over a casserole, a $5 Starbucks card, walk the dog or write an inspiring note.  I had a dear friend who made me an inspirational quote a day countdown where I flipped through a stack of cheerful notecards with thoughtful sayings each day.  You can bring over a great book to read (a page turner, nothing to do with teaching) or offer to walk with him or her after school as they decompress and listen as they process their day.  Grab a movie from Redbox and drop it off with some microwave popcorn.   Or better yet, treat your favorite teacher to a yoga class!

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De-stress and Namaste.

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