March has arrived and with it the excitement of warmer weather, spring break on the horizon, and the unofficial countdown to summer! It also signals crunch time as we make the final push to help our students succeed on standardized tests. I always feel like there aren’t enough hours in the school day to adequately prepare my students for a test on which my teaching skills might be judged.
Testing season is a lot like swimsuit season, wouldn’t you agree? Suddenly it is upon us, and we look back and wonder where the time went.
I want you to know that even if you don't feel your kids are as ready as they should be, you’re doing your best, especially in these crazy times. I'm sharing a few strategies I use in my classroom that have positively impacted student success. I hope you're able to take a couple of these ideas and use them with your own students.
Show it as a Poet
One of my favorites is called “show it as a poet”. Students write poems as a way to demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary words. We all know vocabulary is key to success on tests. If kids don’t understand the words used in the question stems or answer choices, no amount of practice is going to help. Here’s how it works. After students have defined the vocabulary words, they will write “formula or prescription” poems as a means to show comprehension.
First, my students get a mini lesson on the structure and format of Haiku. I model, we write a poem together, and then I turn them loose. Students who typically balk at the idea of writing poems seem to embrace Haiku. Here’s an example:
The flowers will bloom,
Springtime commences on earth
My favorite time.
For this assignment, the vocabulary word was commence. I can see from the student’s poem that they understand the meaning of the word and can use it effectively in a way other than a sentence. The activity is simple enough, doesn't require much preparation on your part, and is easily assessed.
I’ll be sharing more about using poetry to demonstrate understanding in this month's blog posts, so be sure to bookmark the site, so you don't miss all the great ideas.
Digital Daily ELA Skills
One routine that remains constant is daily ELA skills work which provides my students practice in short, manageable pieces. This can be assigned as morning work or bell ringers, and at the end of the week, they have completed targeted, self-grading assignments in reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar. Try out a week of Digital Daily ELA Skills practice activities in your classroom.
You Be the Test Writer
Another strategy that works really well is a reverse technique of your typical review format. My kids are sick of the same old drill and kill prep at this point, so I put my students in charge of developing responses to question stems found on current STAAR (insert your own state testing acronym here) testing materials.
When they are in the driver’s seat and writing answer choices, it empowers them to take charge of their learning and tackle a test that holds so much weight in their academic life.
As a result, having students read the questions and develop plausible answer choices and distractors works when other approaches have not been successful. I'm not claiming it is the cure-all for every student, but I can see I’m closing the gap for many by using this technique.
What test-prep strategies do you find most effective with students?