Preparing Students for Standardized Tests
Can you relate to the pressures of state testing? Testing pressure is at an all-time high, which can lead to a balancing act of preparing your students for the test while keeping the learning environment engaging and meaningful. Over the years I have discovered that the most successful test taking practices involve a mixture of interactive games (pictured) and explicit instruction on learning how to decipher the test taking genre.
Read on for five tips on preparing for standardized testing. This includes some great lesson ideas with complete files, photos, a video, and printables.
Photo: Utilizing an interactive whiteboard, students can take a throw at questions. Literally. When an object hits a colored dot on the board, a question is revealed for practice and discussion.
From Test Survival Kits to a spin on Johnny Carson's "Carnac the Magnificent," here are five ideas/tips that are sure to entertain and engage your students.
Tip One: Spruce Up Boring Practice Questions With a Whiteboard Game
Our incredible librarian, Sarah Svarda, sent me this whiteboard lesson plan. We utilize ThinkLink for benchmarks, which is followed up with practice probes online. While helpful, it's not exactly an easy job making the practice probes feel fun and engaging. That was until I tried showcasing these practice problems in this fun format. Unfortunately, you will need to have an interactive whiteboard for this lesson to work in your room.
Knock 'Em Out Test Practice
This is really a PowerPoint in disguise. The main slide has a series of colored dots that, when touched, move to a specific slide for a test question. Our librarian just copied and pasted ThinkLink practice probes in and sent this to me. It's the simple things in life, I guess; throwing a Koosh ball at a board was enough to engage my students for some heavy standardized test practice for an extended amount of time.
Download the whiteboard test practice game.
Tip Two: Put Some Fun in Partner Test Prep
The Great BamBunyi Method
Many of us remember watching the Johnny Carson Show when "Carnac the Magnificent" would hold an envelope to his turbaned head to give answers to questions sealed in an envelope. I personally enjoyed the whole outfit. The silly cape, the cheap pearls that dangled around the turban, the large feather that stuck up perfectly like a flower.
So, I was watching an old episode of Alf (an ode to the 80s), when Alf did a skit as "Melmac the Magnificent." Maybe I am easily amused, or a little odd, but I knew this was Alf at his best. Then I thought about my classroom and how we often use partners to study for upcoming tests. Could we, in fact, use the Carnac format to liven test prep up a bit? I shared this idea with my husband, who reminded me how odd I can be at times, before he blurted out, "The Great BamBunyi!" Now, no one has to tell us that our last name is odd. We laughed for a solid five minutes. So, with a small budget approved by my husband, I set out to create these great thinking caps that could be used to magically prepare for upcoming tests. Here's how we did it.
How to Have Fun While Getting Some Test Prep In
Step 1: Figure out how you can make ridiculous looking hats. I found ours at Party City. Add some cheap pearl strings around the side and feathers to the front, and you are good to go.
Step 2: Pull out some envelopes and index cards. Create a set of questions and answers on index cards. One side has the question, while the other question has the answer. Again, you can utilize practice probes for this activity.
Step 3: Model how the "Great BamBunyi" method (or whatever you want to call it) works. In this picture we had Mrs. Vaughn, our student teacher, to help us out for the demonstration. Yes, you can only imagine what she thought of me. To see what I did five minutes before lunch to demonstrate and explain this, you can access the video file here:
(Click here or on the photo above)
Step 4: Hand each student five envelopes. Inside each envelope a question and answer will be found. Students will be given some time to memorize the first question and answer provided (in order).
Step 5: Each student will be paired up with another student in class. I used names on sticks to select partners. The student selected to go first will put the "Great BamBunyi" cap on and proceed to place the closed (but not sealed) envelope to their head. They will then answer the unknown question before reading it to their partner. The memorized envelope goes last, as the opened envelope has the question and answer to the next revealing.
Step 6: When all five envelopes are shared with their partner, the roles will shift as the other student does the same thing.
Step 7: When all ten questions and answers are shared, pass the envelopes on to another group. Proceed to "study" in a fun, but helpful, atmosphere.
Here are some photos of our learning in progress. If you have any ideas on how to improve this, please share!
A student, using the Great BamBunyi method to study and learn.
Tip Three: Incorporate the Genre of Test Taking From Strategies That Work
This staple in many classrooms has an incredible resource tucked away at the end of the book. It not only provides several key concepts and tips, but it also includes sample test passages with detailed step-by-step plans on how to attack reading comprehension questions on a standardized test. It is a really valuable resource and assisted my students in feeling as though they had a strategic plan to answer test questions. Here are several pages from the unit for your consideration:
Steps to Attacking Nonfiction Standardized Texts
(summarized from Strategies That Work)
1. Skim the headings and subheadings.
2. Read the questions and identify which questions are "right there" questions or inferring questions. Students can circle the questions that deal with main idea, a good title, or questions that ask what will most likely happen next (inferring questions). For any questions that are literal or direct (right there), a key word or phrase is underlined for purposes of reading.
3. Strategic highlighting is taught for the purpose of answering and supporting questions only. It's okay to tell students that in this setting we are NOT reading for pleasure. Our purpose for reading is to answer questions thoughtfully and carefully.
4. For right there questions, they are encouraged to answer as they go.
5. They are also encouraged to eliminate the answers they are confident are incorrect. I ask my class to eliminate two every time, leaving a 50% chance of answering the question correctly.
Tip Four: Create a College-Style Study Jam
I am betting that every college graduate has participated in a study session for a final exam at least once. Maybe many more. I found them to be very helpful; especially if it was in preparation for a high stakes exam that involved assessment of a large amount of material. What I always enjoyed about these review sessions with peers was how much we were able to accomplish in a nonstressful environment/manner. I can only imagine what it might feel like to be tested on everything learned for an entire school year, in every subject. Not wanting my class day to turn into a test prep conservatory, I opened my doors a little earlier for some casual review sessions. The average for the week? Sixteen to 17 students. This information comes from an archived post from last year.
If You Feed Them, They Will Come
Photo: The breakfast of champions. For this morning session, southern style greeted us. Other mornings included a healthier route, but when you live in the South you can't deny the biscuits, gravy, and bacon!
I have to say, up front, that I am a morning person and usually arrive at my door at 7:00 (class starts at 8:15), so this idea may not work for everyone. But the entire idea came in a flash, and I was mentioning it to my class seconds later.
I shared with my class how study sessions with peers helped me in college and how they work best when it involves a stressful, culminating test like a final exam . . . or in our case, state testing. I then shared that I was worried that without a review, they would be stressed and unprepared. I also told the class that I didn't want to become a test prep monster in class. It really seemed like an informal morning review session for the next two weeks prior to testing was the best of both worlds. I could help them feel prepared without worrying about lesson plans or formal assessments.
When I mentioned having parents volunteer to provide breakfast, almost all of my students said they could attend morning review sessions, if they were offered. I wasn't so sure how it would go, but I created a sign-up sheet for both attending and providing breakfast and crossed my fingers that all would go well.
The response was just amazing. We averaged 16–17 students for the entire week, and we had enough food for a small colony. The best part was that we were able to go back over old skills in such a relaxing way. I REALLY felt like I was able to talk to the group and review with them with no worries. Also, not working under the constraints of a school day, everyone just seemed more relaxed and willing to learn. We were able to go from skill to skill and subject to subject with ease, and by the end of the week, I had turned it over to the kids. I had them figure out what needed to be reviewed and let students create questions for each other. In the main photo, a student demonstrates this by creating a question about an animal cell part and functions to the group of 16 students.
Fun with breakfast foods.
Tip Five: Create Test Survival Kits
Using Print Shop, I created this cover for the TCAP survival kit. Access my original Test Survival Kit file.
This idea is so simple, but parents and students really seem to enjoy it. I place the following items inside a simple Ziploc bag for each student during testing:
~ Two nicely sharpened pencils
~ A highlighter (we can use them in our books)
~ An individual pack of Kleenex
~ An individual moist towelette hand and face wipe
~ A mint
~ A small note from me wishing them good luck (below)
~ A calculator to use during math testing days
Add a sticker with their name on the front (above), and students seem more secure with their survival kits. I will add a picture here tomorrow of the finished product.
Photo: Using a business card format, you can create a quick note to your students. Due to testing requirements, you will have to keep that message short and sweet. Here is the note template for use with Print Shop.
Bonus: Make Testing Days Feel Less Intimidating
I start by greeting my students with a Star Wars Light Saber in my hands. I say confidently, "May the force be with you!" Students can't help but crack a smile or a small giggle, and that's exactly how I want them to start the day.
Good luck with your state testing, whether you have completed it already or it is coming up shortly! You may link to many printables and resources to help guide you in preparing your students for state testing.
What are your tips, resources, and ideas? With the expanding pressure of preparing our students for standardized testing, I would love to hear what you have to say or have tried in the past.