Preparing For Testing Like It’s My Job

What’s another good title for this blog post?

a) Testmas: the holiday no one wants to celebrate

b) Actual teaching vs. the government’s ideas of teaching

c) Have another cup of coffee and while you’re at it grab a cinnamon bun too

d) All of the above or none of the above, who really goes around renaming things?

I’m working on a unit right now that I am strangely excited about.  That’s right, its my standardized test as a genre unit.  I’m strangely excited because, as I’m compiling and organizing the notes that I took during my meeting with my super colleague, Michelle, I see a lot of great teaching.  Here’s why, it’s preparation, not PREP.

Prep is when you throw away your usual curriculum and pull out the test books.  Kids sit in desks, take test after test, and go insane with boredom.  No actual teaching occurs.  Sure they might do passable on the test, but they don’t actually know how to do anything else.  This would be fine if every opportunity in life had four lettered choices.

Preparation is when we examine the authentic quality teaching we’ve been doing all year and think about what adjustments or “tweaks” we need to make in order to help students transfer their skills to the test.  For example, pointing out that the feature articles they just wrote are “Expository” and asking them to articulate why they wrote them “to inform or persuade.”  It seems silly, but when I pointed this out to my class a light bulb went on over half of their heads.  I didn’t need to inundate them with prompts and passages and questions.  I just needed to explicitly teach some vocabulary.

I thought about how I prepare for tests, the most recent being the National Board Assessments I took last Spring. (shudder)  Here’s is my process.

  1. Research: What will I be asked to do?  What do examples of the test look like?  What do examples of “quality” responses look like?  (Quality is in quotation marks because I don’t really consider test writing to be of any real literary or creative quality.)
  2. Practice & Reflect: I do a few practice tests and then reflect on what I seem to know and what I need to work on.  Timely feedback helps me to use the test as part of my learning tool so I don’t waste time.
  3. Build Confidence: As I do these things I start to get the sense that I am the most amazing test taker in the world and I will clearly succeed.  That might be a slight exaggeration…
  4. Compile: For written tests I compile a list of essential things to remember to include.  Sometimes I even make a cute little acronym.  No I won’t give any examples for fear of embarrassing myself.
  5. Chill Out: That’s right.  About a week before the test I chill out or chillax as the kids say these days.  I might re-read some of my better written responses to keep the flavor of them in my mind.  I might chant out my little acronym while in the shower, but for the most part I just forget about it.

So this is what I plan to help my students do, while sacrificing not one minute of content or writing time.  I will make it as interesting and engaging as I can, and I’m not talking about fun and games, I’m talking about engaging learning styles.  I will model and think aloud so that my students can benefit from my years of developed test taking strategies.  I will be their cheerleader and as soon as the Testmas season is over, we are going to have some real educational fun!

The reason the author most likely wrote this blog post was to…

A) inform

C) entertain

3) annoy

Z) amuse herself

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One Response to Preparing For Testing Like It’s My Job

  1. Tara says:

    Loved this! Testmas approaches for us as well, and I, too, teach it as a genre study. We analyze and learn the process, preparing for the inevitable week of testing, yet continuing with all the other good stuff we do.

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