Primary Chalkboard: The Teacher Studio
Showing posts with label The Teacher Studio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Teacher Studio. Show all posts

Test Prep Without Sacrificing Teaching Time!

It's coming for many of our upper elementary teachers and students.  They have thought about it.  Worried about it. 

The. Test.

This is something that I have thought about a great deal.  I hear so many stories about teachers, schools and districts who set aside real teaching and learning to prepare for tests that are simply supposed to be a "dipstick" to  measure the state of affairs in our classrooms.  I am a believer (to a degree) in some forms of standardized testing.  Districts need to get some feedback on how their students and programs are performing.  That being said, the evolution of testing into high stakes, pressure-riddled experiences for teachers and students about sends me over the edge.  Because I think this is so important, I have revisited a post I wrote last year about this time to make sure that we continue to think about what is important about testing--and the number one thing we need to remember is our students.

Teachers around the country are worried about if they are preparing their students well enough.  If they have given them enough practice opportunities. If they have spent their instructional minutes providing them with EXACTLY the right amount of exposure to what they will see on the test.

I don't.

I don't make pages of practice questions. I don't do a "real" test preparation unit.  I don't provide ongoing practice on key skills I know will be on the test.  It's not worth my time.  I'm not preparing a group of students to be test takers.  I am teaching them how to think and how to learn and how to tackle ANY problem they encounter--with energy, with perseverance, and with an "I can do this!" attitude.

In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that students who can read, who can think, who are willing to try will do as well or BETTER than students who are given hours of fill in the blank practice.  I want students to learn how to do well on these tests without me telling them what to do and spending hours of their precious time drilling.  I want them to DISCOVER how to be successful by putting them in situations where they can learn this genre in a meaningful way.  Now--before you accuse me of doing my students a disservice, let me tell you what I DO do!  Hopefully you might find a little morsel of information or inspiration below!

1.  I do teach my students about multiple choice questions.  In fact, I try to get them in the minds of a test writer by teaching them about distractors and even having them try writing questions with a right answer, a distractor, and two other relevant answers. We even talk about the art of "coloring the bubble".

2.  I do teach my students about healthy testing behaviors like getting sleep, eating well, and relaxing for best performance.
3.  I do teach my students about reading critically, about going back into texts to find answers, about thinking about what authors are trying to tell us.

4.  I do teach my students about staying focused and checking over their work.

5.  I do teach my students about answering questions fully and providing evidence found in the texts.

6.  I do teach my students about what to do when they encounter a challenging problem.  We learn all sorts of strategies that gives us to reread directions. How to find key words.  How to "give it a try" on scratch paper.  Even how to SKIP it if it is interfering--and then we come back later.

7.  I teach my students about problem solving and looking for patterns.

8.  I teach my students to read all sorts of materials...stories...poems...articles...graphs...infographics.

9.  I teach my students how to work with stamina so they can sit and complete a task that might take them an hour or so--without losing focus.

10.  I teach my students how to be ok with doing their best and having an "I can do it!" attitude.  I want them to treat everything they do with that spirit...and to walk away knowing that they did their best--and that's all they can do.  I want my students to walk out after the test feeling great--that they did their job...even when the questions were tough.

Do I do this with packets?  Nope.  Do I do this for 3 weeks straight?  Nope.  I do this all year long, when it's relevant...and BECAUSE it's relevant.  

Now--don't get me wrong--we DO a practice test or two.  In fact, we take it, study it, and break it apart.  I have my students hunt for terms they think are tricky like "passage" or "synonym".  We make anchor charts and lists of "things to know" about taking tests.  We practice this in a quiet room to mimic testing situations.  We talk about filling in the bubbles neatly and checking over our work so we don't miss questions.  If I taught third grade, I would have to do even more of this because the test is so new.  That being said, if we can teach our students to have a great attitude about trying, if they can stay focused and apply what they know, and if they can be successful at whatever task they are handed!

How are my test scores, you might ask?  My principal called me in several years ago to ask what I do...because my scores were SO much higher than the average.  It was hard for me to explain.  I told her, "I teach students how to learn, how to work, and how to try."  

One resource that has been super helpful to me is the book "Test Talk" by Amy Greene and Glennon Melton.  It gives some GREAT suggestions for how to incorporate test taking strategies into your reading workshop.  Check out the link below for more details.  

One final thing I do is ask my students to talk and write about all the ideas mentioned above.  It needs to be more than me TELLING them these things...they need to be able to process them and construct their own meaning.  I have put a lot of this together in an unusual test prep resource--in case you are interested!  Thanks for stopping by--and good luck on the tests.  Make sure you keep it positive and give your students the power to do well AND feel good about it!

Want to see more about what I do in my fourth grade class?  Visit my blog!


"Accountable Talk"--but are they ready?

Many of us are familiar with the term "accountable talk" as it refers to discourse in the classroom.  Many districts have been implementing "accountable talk" initiatives where teachers are working hard to explicitly teach students how to engage in quality educational discussions.  I think most educators will be in agreement that this is a good idea.  After all, we know that academic discourse can lead to amazing learning--and can improve engagement and interest.  Many teachers have accountable talk "stems" or sentence starters posted and use these to help guide students through more and more sophisticated discussions.  I'm a huge fan--really!
But I sometimes stop and look at my own students and realize that, for some, we may need to back up a little from this.  It's all well and good to teach students the ins and outs of a quality discussion.  Students may know WHAT to say and even be able to explain why.  But there is one thing I think we sometimes forget--some students just lack the confidence to apply these new tools we are teaching them!  By engaging in these discussions and saying things like, "I disagree with you because..." or "I would also like to add...", it requires a great deal of confidence and risk taking.

One thing I have started to do in recent years is give students a lot more opportunities to build their oral language skills in pairs and get them used to sharing their ideas, piggybacking off of other ideas--and even disagreeing with others.  By doing this in much smaller groups, the risks go down, and confidence can increase dramatically.  

I start having partners share stories that I have on these cards.  I have a whole range of topics--things that ALL students should be able to talk about for about a minute.  We practice with our pairs making a comment about what the other person says...they might just compliment them...or ask a question...or make a connection...but it's all very relaxed.  I may then invite some students to share ideas with the whole class.  I love to make the connection to writing--about how learning to TELL stories is the first step in WRITING stories.  This practice accountable talk is fun, relaxed, and builds comfort in a much safer environment than in front of the entire class...and allows me time to walk around and "coach" and make suggestions.
 Sometimes, too, it's fun to just throw a word or phrase out there and let the students talk!  The other day, I presented this card to the class...and we practiced agreeing and disagreeing with each other in groups of three.  We had people talking about their opinions about roller coasters...about personal experiences about roller coasters...and even about how they work and how dangerous they can be.  What do you notice?  That's right--writing genres!  This was the perfect time to talk to students about how a simple topic like homework...or snakes...or losing..,can lead to countless discussions or pieces of writing.  In fact, after they had their roller coaster discussions, we did some whole-class sharing and then I sent them off to their writer's notebooks to free write on the topic for about 15 minutes.  Their pencils were furiously scratching across their pages--and I know it's because they had some amazing discussions before  they wrote. students are having a lot of fun with language these days, are getting to know each other, and are building their confidence daily.  As we move deeper in the school year, I know that more and more of them will be ready to chime in to class discussions and really use those accountable talk stems I have hanging there!

Because I use these so often in my class (these are great fillers when you have 5 minutes...while you wait for a special transition in from recess...), I did make a nice laminated set for my class.  I have put them in my store as well--I know this would be SO easy for teachers to do on their own, but sometimes just having them done is so nice!  I have informational topics, opinion topics, and cards geared for personal narrative stories--so I can use these with every genre of writing I teach.  Here is the link if you are interested.  Thanks for stopping by today!


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Setting a climate for problem solving!

One thing that we all know to be true is that "real world" math doesn't show up on a page with 12 problems!  Our job as teachers is to prepare students to solve ANY problem that comes their way!  As we start a new school year, setting a climate for problem solving can set the stage for a year where students are willing to dig in and use their math skills no matter WHAT the circumstances.  

To get the year started, there are a few phrases that I like to introduce to my students and then reinforce all year long--words that help set the tone for the kind of "math learning" I want to happen all year long.  See what you think!
One of the biggest things I have noticed over the years is that many students have a very real fear of being wrong.  This fear keeps them from participating, keeps them from enjoying math, and--worst of all--keeps them from learning!  In the first weeks of school, I push my students to take risks.  I give them impossible problems.  We work in pairs. We solve problems that have countless answers--and I encourage them to find answers that no one else will find.  Throughout all this, I highlight students and teams that have showcased risk taking--even if their answers aren't correct!  
I even share a few quotes about taking risks and we talk about real life experiences they have had where taking a risk paid off!  If you want a copy of these "take a risk" quotation posters, click here
Another idea that I stress with my students is that they need to always be ready to revise their own thinking!  I had a super fun lesson where we debated about whether or not certain shapes were rectangles.  Some students were SO rigid in their thinking that they were unable to take in new ideas from others and revise their own understanding about the concept.  If you want to read more about this lesson, CLICK HERE to see it!
 This, of course, directly relates to my NEXT phrase--"critique thinking".  I always want my students thinking about what they hear, evaluating if it makes sense, and then offering up their own ideas in a polite, constructive way.  This was a HUGE part of the rectangle lesson and many other similar lessons.  Students need to learn how to offer up their critiques in a productive way--and this is all a part of creating that climate for risk taking and problem solving.  
 Another phrase I teach my students early in the school year is "justify your answer".  Students know that saying "I just knew it!" won't get them very far--and that they need to learn to use math language to explain their thinking to others.  Other students should be able ask questions requesting clarification as well.  The discussions are just fascinating!  At the beginning of the year, I need to step in as a coach, but as the year unfolds, the discussions run themselves!
 Finally, my favorite.  Perseverance.  Without this, nothing else matter!  From the first day of school, I stress with my students how important it is to be willing to dig in and WORK HARD.  We talk about how to ask for help--but only after really giving it a good try.  We talk about how to "help" each other by coaching and not giving answers.  We talk about how GOOD it feels to take on a challenging problem--and to work through it.  We talk about how the PROCESS of doing math is more important than the answer (at times)...and to be willing to dig in and try will pay off in the end.  I deliberately present my students with problems that are challenging to help them learn how to navigate this uncomfortable feeling...and how to help each other with the math--and with encouragement.
If you teach intermediate grades, I have a freebie all about perseverance if you are interested!  It gives a little more information plus a challenging problem for you to present to YOUR class to see how well they can persevere.  I have a full resource related to this as well with additional problems to use to help teach perseverance if you are interested.  Just click the "Persevere" sign above.  Want to try the freebie?  Click the image below.
Thanks so much for joining me for my first post here at Primary Chalkboard!
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