It’s almost here! TESTING SEASON! It is the most dreaded time in education for many teachers. Raise your hand high if you have spoken the words, “Now, this is a great test taking strategy”. If so, don’t hang your head in shame. Today, I want to challenge you next year to completely change the way you think about testing and teaching in general.
“What does a good learner look like?” We were challenged by Steve Ventura from Advanced Collaborative Solutions to ask our students what they thought. Their responses were absolutely shameful! Vague answers about listening and paying attention were the most popular answers. I decided right then to change the way I teach and it has made a huge difference in the expectations of my learners. I am not teaching “Test Taking Strategies” this month, instead, I am reminding my students of what we have learned that good learners look like.
A test taking strategy is “explain your thinking”. Change this strategy to “verbalizing”. If students can talk about their thinking, they can write or explain it. My second graders love using the word “verbalize”. EVERY SINGLE observation, they use that word. When I asked them why they always like to “verbalize” during my observations, they responded that they want the principals to know that I am teaching them big words. When I introduced verbalizing, I pointed to my lips and then made my hands talk like a puppet. I told them this was a big kid or high school word for when students can talk about their learning and explain their thinking. Since then, they have been verbalizing up a storm!!!
A test taking strategy is to “search for answers,” but a good learner “examines their test”. My learners are at least one grade level below their peers. When I look at my students, I have the same expectations for them as any classroom teacher. I differentiate the work, but the expectations stay the same. I no longer use “find” and focus on “examining”. When my students examine their text, they are not just looking for answers. They are using what they find in the passage to infer, compare, and challenge.
Here’s an example of an activity that I do to start a reading group lesson. Students “find their answers” in the text. The “examining” comes after we have warmed up our brains. We can then compare the paragraphs we read, challenge the nonfiction text with experiences of our own, and infer the author’s purpose.
Instead of teaching students test taking strategies like “go back and check over your work,” I challenge my students to “analyze their own choices or answers.” Good learners ask themselves, “Is this the best possible choice for this question?” and then justifies their answer accordingly. Most of my students do this verbally. They need to talk it out. They are starting to do this independently, but it is still a process for us.
All year, I have taught my students to be resilient! “Laugh in the face of challenging problems or questions” is a great attitude to have when you have been taught the skills to tackle anything. Test taking strategies that remind students to “Try your best and stay calm” during the test are great, but if you keep saying the word TEST your students are going to be anything but calm.
Why change your mindset and focus? My answer is easy… my son! My 9 year old is going to take his very first state mandated test this year. He is a very quiet child who has to work hard for his good grades. He struggles with self-confidence and anxiety. In 2nd grade, he was already stressing out over the dreaded TEST. It wasn’t his teacher’s fault. It was the fact that over the intercom they were constantly being reminded of it and to be quiet while the upper grades were testing. I decided then that I had to change the way that I help students prepare for this TEST. Then after Mr. Ventura visited, I decided to forget about the TEST and focus on the LEARNER. By teaching my students to be better LEARNERS and what a good LEARNER looks like, the TEST is going to be a breeze! No last minute rush to teach these strategies when I have taught them all year and they can recognize them. So, I challenge you Teacher! Change your mindset and start now teaching GOOD LEARNER STRATEGIES instead of TEST TAKING STRATEGIES!