Standardized testing and its place in education is an ongoing debate. Even mentioning the Common Core can spark a heated debate in the blink of an eye. Many parents, educators and students do not feel that standardized testing accurately demonstrates the true breadth of a student’s abilities. As Business Insider points out, some people feel that standards so focused on testing show a “lack of consideration for non-traditional learners.” There’s no doubt that classroom learning has taken a turn toward assessment-focused curriculums. How can teachers help their students prepare for academic assessments without sacrificing a creative, well-rounded approach to each lesson? Here are a few ideas.
Game Show Fun
Although standardized tests don’t necessarily scream “fun,” reinforcing important concepts through games is a student-approved way to prepare for assessments. As first-grade teacher Lauren Crisp writes for Scholastic, her students use white boards to answer test preparation questions. She splits her classroom into teams of four students and displays questions on the overhead. The first team to raise their boards and display unanimous correct answers earns a point, and the overall winning team earns extra reading time later in the day.
Team-based games allow students to revisit test subjects while still working on critical thinking and cooperation skills. Jeopardy has been a classroom go-to for years, but it may be time to update your playbook when it comes to learning activities. Scholastic suggests five additional game show-based review activities that are highly adaptable across subjects and grade levels: Family Feud, Pyramid, Wheel of Fortune, Millionaire and Deal or No Deal.
Call and Response
Part of helping your pupils prepare for a big test is gauging where they are in the learning and retention process, but students may burn out when faced with practice tests and rote recall exercises. Classroom response systems present an instantaneous way for teachers and students alike to see which topics are well understood and which need more work in the classroom. Students answer PowerPoint-embedded polls using mobile devices, web browsers or Twitter, and the results display on screen to the entire classroom. If many students miss a certain question, it’s a signal to the teacher that it’s time to revisit that lesson before the big assessment. If an individual student selects the wrong answer on a question, they get the real-time benefit of seeing and discussing the right answer on the spot. Teachers can start each day leading up to a standardized test with a set of questions to spark the discussion for the day, and can tailor their lessons to the results from students’ responses.
Besides the actual content of standardized tests, teachers must consider how language and format affect students’ mastery. It’s not just a matter of teaching the facts; you must also guide students toward a better understanding of what the test expects from them. As Education.com points out, “teachers often teach test-taking strategies through minilessons where they explain the strategy, model its use, and provide opportunities for guided practice and discussion.”
Tack on a minilesson at the end of each period that serves the dual purpose of reinforcing a key concept and showing students how to interpret test questions. It doesn’t matter how much a student knows if they consistently misconstrue standardized test questions and thus fall for the “trick” answer! Set aside a few minutes every day to go over an example question or two that accurately reflect scenarios students may see on the upcoming test. You don’t have to bog down your lesson plan with testing techniques to help your students feel more confident when the big day comes, all thanks to minilessons.
Preparing students for standardized tests requires a pinch of patience, a dash of creativity and an ability to put yourself in your students’ shoes. Focus on using timely and engaging activities in your classroom for the best results leading up to assessments.