My Plan to Get Through May State Testing...Alive
UPDATED FOR THE 2018 TESTING SEASON
It is always good practice to revisit experiences that are similar from year to year. I wanted to look at the Testing Post from last year to see what I did to survive, and what my new additions are for this year. The goal here? My students and I make to June with our sanity, AND we still are pushing ourselves to learn new information each day.
Last year's post started like this:
May 1st is Monday. I have laid out my last six weeks of school in calendar printables and I am marking off the days that I actually have instruction. How many days am I actually teaching you ask? ELEVEN. Yes, you heard right. I am only teaching eleven days in the month of May. When June comes that is something different, June is a different beast at the end of the year. I like to take my time to look at May at a glance. On my calendar I currently have:
Poetry unit for my general ed. classes
Novel unit for my advanced ed. classes
A graphic novel author visit
A poetry author visit (Shoutout to Nikki Grimes!)
M-Step State Testing
NWEA Map Reading Testing
Common Growth Assessment with performance task and argumentative essay
One Day of Professional Development (Substitute Teacher in My Class)
Memorial Day-No School
Library days to fit in choice reading time
And that is my month of May. From the onset, it could be particularly easy to become overwhelmed or stressed. We are nearing that time when the kids are done, the teachers are done, and even the posters on my walls are done (that double-sided tape lasts until May...not June). So I am being cognizant of some strategies that will help get through the month of May without breaking into a million pieces.
This year's game plan looks very similar. Add in that I am teaching Jason Reynolds' A Long Way Down to my general ed. classes at the end of the year, and I am BEYOND excited. This is a strategy in and of itself because you have to remain excited about teaching until the very last day with students. I am also excited about texts selected for literature circles. Both of my advanced preps will end with literature circles. Everything else looks very similar from the schedule above. This year, I am focusing on how to keep my spirits high, but also my students' spirits high. This time of year seems like the vacuum of no return. We come to school to learn, but then we just end up trying to get through it. Here is a list of my strategies with some additions for this year:
Strategy 1: Make a flexible plan ahead of time.
I am planning my last units right now for both of my all of my preps. My goal is to have units of study in this month that can change at the last minute. Poetry and literature circles are great for that. Poetry is short (most times) and to the point. Students can take information and pick it up easily if something is missed in class. When I saw Kwame Alexander speak, he talked about how the "white space" isn't intimidating to students. This resonated with me because we see the evidence all too often about how the text on the page makes students give up. We are going to be reading one main novel in verse book together in my general class, and my goal for students is that they can jump right in and I can adjust if needed depending on the chaos of the day. Similarly, literature circles can also be used to the same effect. I can assign more or less reading depending on the day. I don't have many days with students, so this type of student-guided activity is perfect for advanced this month because they can talk to each other about what they are reading. They can focus on the community when testing makes us feel isolated. The goal is to allow them to do what the want to do instead of being quiet and still for hours at a time.
Points of flexibility:
Amount of material covered in one class period
Using the amount of time in class to the best of students' abilities
Being able to vary homework given-sometimes less, sometimes more
Strategy 2: Make the process easier for testing students.
This is part of that mindset piece for students. Physically, I am still bringing the positive energy each day. Mentally, I am reminding myself that this isn't easy for them either. Rita Pearson said, "Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they can become the best they can possibly be." Be their champion in the month of May. Set the mantra: Today I will be their champion.
Ways to be their champion:
Offer kind words
Print out after test taking activities to do after the test so they don't have to sit there bored. I always offer choice reading, but sometimes kids just want a break (I love the anti-stress coloring sheets)
Remind them of the strategies they will need
Bring in snacks or treats one day
Give personal notes to students encouraging them to do their best
Be prepared with testing directions/protocols so students feel YOUR confidence
Create a "testing survival station" with snacks, pages to color, erasers, fun pencils, etc
Strategy 3: Push for the right schedule.
In the past, we have tested non-stop all day for multiple days at a time. This year, my school has moved to testing for shorter time periods during the day. Yes, this means more time overall for a week, but students are not burning out on staring at screens for hours. We normally have 2-3 hours left in the day after testing. The first year they rolled out M-Step I watched my then 7th graders take the test from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. Never again. We advocated for these shorter testing times in bursts, and it got approved. Advocate for your kids.
Done testing early in a class? Consider doing an all-team or group read. Last year, my interdisciplinary team did an all-team read. I am fortunate enough to share the same students with my core team; however, even if you did not have this luxury you could offer this as an option. Often, you can't use technology while other students are testing, but you can offer high-interest post-testing activities that help students recover from testing burnout.
Other great activities to offer:
Do a genre remix project with them.
Do creative writing...use fun story prompts.
I love inquiry projects. Let students explore to some extent and exercise their own autonomy.
Go outside and read if weather permits. They. love. this.
Strategy 4: Test Prep Smart
There are millions of ways to review testing materials with students! Here is my Pinterest board with some of my favorites. When I review vocabulary, and particularly reading comprehension strategies, (because nothing makes a student say, "Nope, I give up" like a long passage) I want to look at how I can make this fun. Gallery walks? Escape rooms? Sketchnotes? I'm open to the creativity.
Strategy #5: No countdown.
As hard as it is to hear, no countdown. Now, let me make this clear: I am counting the days down. I may be counting the minutes and even the seconds on some days. It is May and I am a teacher and I am tired. Period. However, I don't want to let them know that. I want to cherish these last six weeks with them because these are the last six weeks with them. They move on. You move on. Life goes on. I would like to take these days and make them count. I could count them down; I could announce daily: Just 28 days left! But, what good is that going to do? Who wants to be in a classroom that does not want them anymore? Nobody. No countdown.
Writing Mindset Reflection: Is May your friend or foe? What do you do to end the school year right? How do you get through mandatory state testing?