We hope your new year is off to a great start! As we transition into the new year and our focus switches from the holidays to testing season, we wanted to ring in the new year with some tried and true testing tips that have served us well over the years.
Tip #1- Daily Practice
From August to December, it seems we bounce from one holiday or activity to the next. It is difficult to even think about the end-of-year assessment, much less work it into our lesson plans. Daily practice from the beginning of the year makes a huge difference in students' confidence and performance. Weekly assessments provide frequent progress monitoring and enable you to pinpoint weaknesses and plan interventions early on. Additionally, incorporating a daily spiral review into your lesson plans builds reading stamina and exposes students to rigorous question stems from the get-go, so when they ask them on the summative assessment, they are ready and confident, instead of being overwhelmed and unsure.
Tip #2 - Skill Review
Skill-specific task cards are our absolute favorite way to review skills. They can be used in so many ways - literacy work stations, small group instruction, intervention, exit tickets, boot camps, review games, and so much more. Other than their versatility, the best thing about task cards is that students are doing the same things they usually do (and HATE) on worksheets, and they actually enjoy it! Considering that test prep is usually a painful, laborious process, this is a huge relief. Differentiated task cards also help you to meet the needs of all your students, and can help take those students on the "bubble" to passing and bump others to even mastering their grade level expectations.
Tip #3 - Assessment Review
We love to assess our students' learning each grading period in a fun way. Set aside those review packets and released passages. Those are great for benchmarks, but they don't always accurately show students' progress. Students quickly get overwhelmed by the quantity of passages and questions, and they rarely perform to their ability. Instead, we prefer to use our STAAR Wars Task Cards, which cover the skills students are taught each 6 weeks, to monitor their progress. These can be used for Scoot or other whole-class review games. And because they're digital, they can be used easily with smart boards, iPads, or Chromebook. Our favorite game is "Be the Teacher," in which the students take over the class, while the teacher sits back and assesses learning and participation from the sidelines. For more information, please check out way #10 from our blog post "20 Ways You're Missing Out if You're Not Using Task Cards" (all of our task cards include instructions for this activity, as well).
Tip #4 - Independent Practice
As the test looms closer, it is tempting to start throwing passage after passage at kids for independent practice because, besides, if we don't expose them to this level of content, there's no way they'll be prepared for the test, right? Wrong. Students get overwhelmed quickly and rush through assignments just to get finished. And what's worse, learning is not meaningful. Save those for assessments. Instead, try building students' reading stamina and engagement with self-selected texts and reader's response activities. You can control the genre, and students can practice skills you've taught in your mini-lessons in a meaningful way. Our favorite task is to have students answer test question stems about the texts their reading in written responses in their reading notebooks, exit tickets, or even using a Chromebook or iPad. This extends their comprehension to a much deeper level. While you are conferencing with students individually or doing guided reading with a group of students, this provides the perfect opportunity for the remainder of the class to hone their independent reading skills.
Tip #5 - Join a Community
During this difficult time of the school year, there truly is strength in numbers. Not quite "misery loves company," but we do feel empowered when we realize others are facing the same struggles we are, and if we join together by sharing tips and tricks that work for us, preparing our students for the test won't seem so arduous. This is why created our brand new Facebook group. We wanted to create a safe space for teachers to come together and share their ideas, ask questions, collaborate, learn from others, and support and help each other survive testing season. We would love for you to be part of it! Simply visit our Facebook page and select the groups tab on the left sidebar or search for Upper Elementary Test Prep in the Facebook search bar. You can also send us an email to email@example.com with your Facebook user name, and we can get you added that way. We look forward to connecting with you soon!
Tip #6 - Follow Blogs
Gone are the days where we have to visit the local teacher store or book store to learn more about our profession. Now, there is a wealth of information available at our fingertips simply by doing a Google search. Following blogs is one of the best ways to stay abreast of current practice and learn from experts in the field. Of course, we'd love for you to follow ours, but there are several others that offer loads of valuable advice. Some of our favorites are: Texas Teaching Fanatic, Buzzing with Mrs. B, and Maneuvering the Middle. If you haven't done so already, we also encourage you to join Bloglovin which provides an easy way to follow all your favorite blogs in one location.
Tip #7 - Set Realistic Goals and Be Good to Yourself
This last tip is more of a self-help tip, but the truth is, it's actually the most important tip that will help you put tips #1-6 into action. This time of year, it's easy to get caught up in the stress and lose sight of yourself and those important to you. We urge you not to let that happen. Keep reminding yourself that you are only human and are only capable of doing so much. No matter how much we try, we can't be superheroes. We can't do all the things all the time. So try to really leave work at work, then go home and be present there, and maybe even put your feet up and pour yourself a glass of wine at the end of the evening. You deserve it!
If you put all these steps into practice, we are certain you will be able to enter this testing season with ease and confidence like never before. You can do this! And we'll be there every step of the way to help in any way we can! :)