Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Standardized Test Prep: Where's the Hook?

This time of year leading up to standardized testing can drain the life and motivation out of both students and teachers. There is so much to be learned, reviewed, practiced, etc. that school starts to feel...well, NOT FUN. We all know that students learn best when they are motivated, engaged, interested, and having fun. It's not just because they're kids. I learn best that way, too. The most interesting college classes, staff development presentations, workshops, etc. for me have always been those that were engaging and fun. It's just how I roll.

I decided that I had to infuse some LIFE into my test prep. I had to hook my kiddos so that they would be seriously preparing for standardized testing while enjoying it at the same time. I truly believe that making things enjoyable for kids is not "an extra" or an "add on" in the curriculum. You can teach and practice the most intense skills, and if kids believe they are having fun, they will focus, pay attention, and learn. That's my opinion after spending 24 years with these kiddos...and the test scores continue to prove it. 

I started out by coming up with a theme and a mascot. Meet Pirate, our test prep mascot.
I started to develop a pirate theme for my test prep lessons to hook the kids. I scoured flea markets, yard sales, gift shops, etc. for treasure chests in various styles. I even found a lovely cage for Pirate.

Students know it is a test prep day when they enter the room and find the treasure box. This is where the test prep materials are stored. If the treasure box is out and in the center of the room, they know that materials are inside. 
Now my students are eleven and twelve years old, and they still buy into this. I hear things like, "Pirate left something for us!" Kids have great imaginations, and if the teacher is motivated and silly and excited, they will be, too. Even the kiddos who think test prep is boooooring or our mascot is silly soon buy into the fun of it all. They can't help themselves!

Inside the treasure box are all of the usual test practice materials. There are passages that must be analyzed and discussed, open-ended questions that must be answered, multiple choice question practice, review of key reading terminology, etc. Miraculously, things that would otherwise seem dull somehow seem a bit magical when retrieved from the treasure chest.

Kids are motivated to do their best work on the practice. They know that possible treasures await. Sure, I know that in theory all kids would be intrinsically motivated to do well on everything without rewards. That's just not how life works in my opinion. We once had a teacher workshop activity where the winning teacher would win a "late pass" to school for a morning he/she wanted to sleep in. Do you think we were motivated? Oh, yes! Extrinsic motivation does have its benefits, and I utilize it for everything it's worth during test prep. 

When we finish the test prep and discuss/go over the answers together, sometimes the students who volunteer can select treasures. I use all different methods. For example, I sometimes fill one of the treasure boxes with colored "jewels" (well, my version). A student who has answered a question picks one and at the end of the review, he/she finds out what the color means. For example, pink could mean bonus participation points, yellow could mean one pirate card, etc.
A pirate card is a little card that a student will fill out for a chance to win a pirate prize drawing after testing is over. When a student wins one as part of test review, he/she fills out his/her name and the date and returns the card to me. I store the cards in a treasure chest and keep them safe until the drawing in April. In April, I have a big drawing at a team meeting with some fun reading prizes. The kids love it each and every year!
I also sometimes use my Message in a Bottle bin for test prep. I switch the messages depending on what I want to do for the test prep session. Sometimes the bottles contain specific test prep questions. A student must select a bottle and answer the question. If the answer is correct, the student wins a pirate card. Other times, I will put numbers in the bottle that correspond with test prep questions on materials we are using. When we discuss/ go over the answers, a student volunteer picks a bottle and is the discussion leader for that question.
Sure, it's easier just to copy the test prep, have the students do it, and go over the answers, but WHERE'S THE HOOK? There's the problem. When my kiddos see the immediate fun and reward in it, they are motivated to think, try, and volunteer. And you know what happens? They LEARN. The end result is better test scores. In this teacher's humble opinion, it's really worth the effort.

We also practice for the reading test by playing some review games. One of my favorite activities is playing reading bingo to review key reading terminology. We cover these terms so much throughout the year, but it's a good idea to review again in a fun way so kids aren't taking the test and thinking, "Wait...What's theme? I forgot!" We all know it happens.
As the test day draws closer, our pirate goes a little rock and roll on us! It's time to ROCK THE TEST! That has long been my motto for test day...probably because I am such a music buff. I incorporate some music into test prep to pump them up. 
We do activities to review test tips. I print out test tip review cards and students present one minute persuasive skits or commercials about them. We do this in a very short time, but it is always effective. We discuss the tips and why they are so important. In the past, we have even written acrostic poems featuring test tips using the words ROCK THE TEST. Whatever burns the tips into my students' minds is worth it.
St. Patrick's Day always falls during test prep, and we always find one of treasure boxes filled with good luck coins for the test right around March 17. I think our parrot friend must know some wee leprechauns and arranges that for us each year!
On test days, I try to offer my kiddos continued motivation. I have given them little goodie bags containing two pencils, an eraser, tissues, a mint, etc. with a message of confidence on the front.
We celebrate the end of testing with a little bit of refreshment as well.
Every teacher has his/her own style. My method of test prep may not be for everyone, and that's okay! I feel it is what has worked best for my kiddos. Sure, we may not love all this testing, but we CAN make the best of it. We CAN prepare kids so that we are getting ready for the test with heavy duty practice and still having fun at the same time. That's a win-win in my book because it keeps kids engaged and motivated, and that keeps them learning. I see what a difference this change in my method of test prep has made for my students and their attitude toward the test, and I think there is great validity to the idea of "we do well at things we enjoy." 

If you'd like more information about fun test prep ideas, stay tuned tomorrow for a great post by Amy from Math, Science, Social Studies...Oh, My! She has some incredible test prep tips coming your way!

If you like some of my ideas, check out my Rock the Test: Reading Test Prep Bundle and Let's Play Reading Bingo game at my TPT shop just by clicking the links below. I really hope your kiddos ROCK THE TEST this year, my friends!


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27 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I love this idea. It gets my own creative juices flowing for my math prep. I am sitting here thinking how to make test prep fun for my sixth graders.
    I am curious though, how many kids do you teach? I teach 110, sometimes doing this with that many kids in short increments involves even more creativity. But I will definitely be trying! Thanks for sharing.

    Elizabeth

    Hodges Herald

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    1. Hi there! I have 114 sixth graders this year for reading. It definitely can be done!

      I am so glad your creative juices are flowing. I hope your kiddos rock the test! Thanks for the kind words. :)

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  3. I LOVE the pirate theme for test prep. Taking the materials out of the treasure chest is perfect! I have to put some real thought into a 'hook" for my classroom for next year. Here are two posts about sustaining student motivation that I wrote this year. ~Stacy

    http://new-in-room-202.blogspot.com/2013/03/enlisting-parents-to-hep-motivate.html

    http://new-in-room-202.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-do-you-sustain-students-love-of.html

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    1. Hi, Stacy! Thanks so much for stopping by! I am looking forward to reading your posts. I am always on the hunt for new ideas. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  4. I completely agree and LOVE your idea! Will be pinning and using later.

    hokieteach.blogspot.com

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    1. I am so glad you enjoyed this post and found it useful, Donna. Thanks for stopping by ATUE. :)

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  5. Oh my goodness! I am in love with this! I have got to find a theme now! I wonder where I can get a treasure box? Or if I could use something else that would be just as fun. Thank you so much for the awesome ideas!

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! There are so many fun themes. Party supply stores also have great theme items. I sometimes buy my pirate and rock and roll things there. If you walk around one of those stores, I bet you'd spot a theme you love. Then you could build from there.

      Thanks for the kind comment on my post!

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  6. This is awesome! I just finished state testing today...wish I had this post sooner! I'm heading to your TPT store right now so I'll have it for next year! Thanks so much for sharing this! :)
    Tracey
    Third Grade All Stars

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment, Tracy. You are so lucky that you are done with testing! I won't feel that relief for another month. :(

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  7. This is such a fantastic idea! We are beginning our CRCT intervention groups this Monday. I can't wait to use this with my 5th graders. After changing grade levels from 1st to 5th I am happy to bring some of the early elementary "fun" stuff to my 5th graders. My fellow teachers were just talking today about how to get our students motivated and I have completely lucked out to find your post. Will you be having a pirate themed test prep bundle available on TPT?

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    1. Thanks, Patty! I hope you will be able to incorporate some of these ideas. I use the pirate theme throughout the whole school year for test prep activities but mostly just with the accessories like the mascot, treasure chest, etc.

      I have always used the Rock the Test theme before the test, so I pull both themes together. The kids get a kick out of it. One year, a student brought in a tiny guitar for the parrot! I really should make some pirate theme materials, too. Maybe for next year...Thanks for the idea! :)

      All the best with your intervention groups!

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  8. I guess I wasn't paying attention to the parrot on the front cover of your pack (it's been a really long day). I think I'll be planning a trip to the party supply store and copy your parrot mascot (too tired to be creative with a theme of my own). Thanks so much!!!

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    1. Well, he is not on the cover of the pack, but I did create the poster to hang in my room so I could tie both themes together. Good luck at the party supply store! They usually have great pirate theme items!

      I hear you on the long day! I hope tomorrow feels short and sweet. :)

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    2. If you have a Pier One Imports by you, sometimes they have some neat things resembling treasure chests, too! :)

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  9. I LOVE this!!! I got excited about our state test reading this...and THAT is saying something. Haha....thanks for all the awesome ideas!

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    1. You're right! That REALLY is saying something! Haha! Thanks for the kind words, Blair. :)

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  10. This is so unique and amazing! I will definitely be pinning this and saving it for next year. I think I will do an owl since my room is covered in them. Thanks so much for sharing your brilliant idea. I'm loving everything you post. I find you very inspiring!

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    1. Awww, Kaci, your comment has made my day! Thank you so much.

      I think an owl test prep theme would be adorable. I can hear the cheer, "Whoooooo's ready for the test? " already!

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  11. Wow! Awesome, extensive post! Please consider accepting my invitation to link up your post at the TEST PREP LINKY PARTY being hosted at
    http://teachingisagift.blogspot.ca/2013/04/test-prep-linky-party.html.
    Sidney
    Teachingisagift

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  12. Math and English test prep programs consider your guesswork away from test-taking for the students, whilst supplying score-raising preparing to students whom may well not or else prepare. Additionally they guide educators prepare students for standard tests.

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  13. I remember having some really fun test preps in elementary school. My teachers recognized that our class did better on tests if the test preparation was a lot more fun. One of the funnest preparations that I had was a scavenger hunt. I don't remember how it helped us on the test, but it was fun.

    Learning Encounters

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