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Test Prep Without Sacrificing Teaching Time!

It's coming for many of our upper elementary teachers and students.  They have thought about it.  Worried about it. 

The. Test.

This is something that I have thought about a great deal.  I hear so many stories about teachers, schools and districts who set aside real teaching and learning to prepare for tests that are simply supposed to be a "dipstick" to  measure the state of affairs in our classrooms.  I am a believer (to a degree) in some forms of standardized testing.  Districts need to get some feedback on how their students and programs are performing.  That being said, the evolution of testing into high stakes, pressure-riddled experiences for teachers and students about sends me over the edge.  Because I think this is so important, I have revisited a post I wrote last year about this time to make sure that we continue to think about what is important about testing--and the number one thing we need to remember is our students.

Teachers around the country are worried about if they are preparing their students well enough.  If they have given them enough practice opportunities. If they have spent their instructional minutes providing them with EXACTLY the right amount of exposure to what they will see on the test.

I don't.

I don't make pages of practice questions. I don't do a "real" test preparation unit.  I don't provide ongoing practice on key skills I know will be on the test.  It's not worth my time.  I'm not preparing a group of students to be test takers.  I am teaching them how to think and how to learn and how to tackle ANY problem they encounter--with energy, with perseverance, and with an "I can do this!" attitude.

In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that students who can read, who can think, who are willing to try will do as well or BETTER than students who are given hours of fill in the blank practice.  I want students to learn how to do well on these tests without me telling them what to do and spending hours of their precious time drilling.  I want them to DISCOVER how to be successful by putting them in situations where they can learn this genre in a meaningful way.  Now--before you accuse me of doing my students a disservice, let me tell you what I DO do!  Hopefully you might find a little morsel of information or inspiration below!

1.  I do teach my students about multiple choice questions.  In fact, I try to get them in the minds of a test writer by teaching them about distractors and even having them try writing questions with a right answer, a distractor, and two other relevant answers. We even talk about the art of "coloring the bubble".

2.  I do teach my students about healthy testing behaviors like getting sleep, eating well, and relaxing for best performance.
3.  I do teach my students about reading critically, about going back into texts to find answers, about thinking about what authors are trying to tell us.

4.  I do teach my students about staying focused and checking over their work.

5.  I do teach my students about answering questions fully and providing evidence found in the texts.

6.  I do teach my students about what to do when they encounter a challenging problem.  We learn all sorts of strategies that gives us POWER...how to reread directions. How to find key words.  How to "give it a try" on scratch paper.  Even how to SKIP it if it is interfering--and then we come back later.

7.  I teach my students about problem solving and looking for patterns.

8.  I teach my students to read all sorts of materials...stories...poems...articles...graphs...infographics.

9.  I teach my students how to work with stamina so they can sit and complete a task that might take them an hour or so--without losing focus.

10.  I teach my students how to be ok with doing their best and having an "I can do it!" attitude.  I want them to treat everything they do with that spirit...and to walk away knowing that they did their best--and that's all they can do.  I want my students to walk out after the test feeling great--that they did their job...even when the questions were tough.

Do I do this with packets?  Nope.  Do I do this for 3 weeks straight?  Nope.  I do this all year long, when it's relevant...and BECAUSE it's relevant.  

Now--don't get me wrong--we DO a practice test or two.  In fact, we take it, study it, and break it apart.  I have my students hunt for terms they think are tricky like "passage" or "synonym".  We make anchor charts and lists of "things to know" about taking tests.  We practice this in a quiet room to mimic testing situations.  We talk about filling in the bubbles neatly and checking over our work so we don't miss questions.  If I taught third grade, I would have to do even more of this because the test is so new.  That being said, if we can teach our students to have a great attitude about trying, if they can stay focused and apply what they know, and if they can be successful at whatever task they are handed!

How are my test scores, you might ask?  My principal called me in several years ago to ask what I do...because my scores were SO much higher than the average.  It was hard for me to explain.  I told her, "I teach students how to learn, how to work, and how to try."  

One resource that has been super helpful to me is the book "Test Talk" by Amy Greene and Glennon Melton.  It gives some GREAT suggestions for how to incorporate test taking strategies into your reading workshop.  Check out the link below for more details.  

One final thing I do is ask my students to talk and write about all the ideas mentioned above.  It needs to be more than me TELLING them these things...they need to be able to process them and construct their own meaning.  I have put a lot of this together in an unusual test prep resource--in case you are interested!  Thanks for stopping by--and good luck on the tests.  Make sure you keep it positive and give your students the power to do well AND feel good about it!

Want to see more about what I do in my fourth grade class?  Visit my blog!

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Quiet Day

Aloha friends! Corinna here from Surfin' Through Second.  Just a quick post today on a fun activity I plan to do this week.

The calendar at the Teacher's Corner says that February 25th is Quiet Day.  What is Quiet Day? According to Webster it is a special day (religious) set aside for devotions, meditations and instructions.

Well I just love the sound of Quiet Day.  If you were to meet me in person one thing you would notice right away is that I am an extremely quiet person.  I am soft-spoken and rarely speak up in a group.  I've always tried to be more social, but it's just not in me.  After years of thinking I was just an odd duck, I have discovered I am a true introvert.


A colleague recommended that I read the book Quiet.  So far I am loving it and feeling not so odd anymore. Did you know that 1/3 of Americans are introverts?  This book has tons of info and I will share a bit more about it when I am done.

We also have students that are introverts.  They don't necessarily love working in large groups, but like working alone or with a preferred partner.  Introverts are also sensitive to loud noises. They enjoy quiet and comfortable surroundings.  

So I have decided that we will use February 25th as a Quiet Day in my classroom.  I plan to speak in my usual soft voice, but I will be the only one who can speak all morning!  I am going to see if we can make it through with total silence in our classroom until recess.


To ensure that students are a bit quieter I plan to give them 5 Quiet points each.(5 tally marks on their desk with dry erase marker).  If they speak above a whisper or disrupt our time they will lose a point. If they can make it through the morning and still have tally marks on their desk, then they will receive a Quiet Award (a bookmark and a pencil). Click on pic to download.



Activities I have planned include a read aloud, silent sustained reading, a review sheet, writing activity and a guided direction activity.  Basically I will be reviewing our weekly skills and teaching as usual, without the students talking.

I already know which students will have 5 tally marks and which ones will have difficulty keeping even one.  My poor extroverts! It will be tough for them, but it will be fun to see if they can do it. I'm sure they will be up for the challenge.

What do you think? Could you make it through a Quiet Day?










Tips, Tools and Routines that Encourage Independence During Writing Workshop

Happy Monday & Presidents' Day! Mondays at home are the best, right?!!

Today, I am talking about Writing Workshop and how to avoid teacher burnout (as well as, retain your sanity). Nothing can make a teacher more crazy than a room full of second graders demanding help, feedback, praise, and encouragement during each step of the writing process.  Am I right?

Click on the image below to find out how to encourage independence, and problem-solving routines and practices that will lead your students to becoming self-managing, confident writers.


Nicole

Vocabulary Instruction, Character Traits & Presidents' Day

Back again, and talking about vocabulary instruction! With both Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day looming, I can't think of a better time to expand students' vocabularies with some carefully chosen Tier 2 words.

What are Tier 2 Words? 

Tier 2 just means that the word is high-utility, and is worth taking the time to explicitly teach! These are words that are not in our students' normal-day vocabularies, but are also not so highly specialized, that they would hardly ever need to be used. In other words, they are words that our students will be seeing in their reading, and should be using in their writing!

Some great choices for this time of year might be:

Valentine's Day: compassion, courtesy, crimson, elegant, fragrant, generous, grateful, gracious, lavender, humorous, precious, courtesy

Presidents' Day: ambition, announce, compromise, collaborate, declare, innovative, honorable, creative, decisive, communicative

To read about what we did, with some of these words, in our classroom, head over to my blog. Link below.


Thanks for popping by,
Nicole

President's Day Activities


Hi everyone! Sarah here from Sarah's Snippets. Today I'm here to show you one of my favorite social studies units. Years ago I create this unit for President's Day. I wanted to give my students some real "meat" during social studies. I was guilty of teaching social studies in a very shallow way. I wanted to help my students really understand what the president does. I wanted to up the rigor a bit too and make it cross-curricular. I spent about a week on this unit. Students were "presidents" for a week.


I'm going to share a little "snippet" from this unit. If you want to read more, check out the post on my blog.  The purpose of this unit was to help kids understand the main jobs of the president. 

This is a favorite from the unit. There are two different versions of this: a country version and a classroom version. In both, students are given money and must decide how much to give to each group. Then you can follow up with a writing activity where the students need to articulate why they chose certain groups over others. Opinion writing- Boom!


Next, students discuss what makes a good leader. Students will write about a person who they believe would make a good leader for their "cabinet" or for another leadership position in the country. 


Here, students learn that a president doesn't make the laws in our country. This is always eye-opening for kids because they see the president as the person who can do anything they want. With this activity, they learn that a president has a role to play in creating laws but cannot do it alone. 


This next activity serves two purposes: to show the president as a diplomat and to exercise their problem solving skills. :)



To see everything that students get to do during this unit, visit my blog! :)


Behavior Tips for ANY time of the YEAR

I don't know about you all but sometimes around this time I need a 'pick me up' as far as behavior incentives in the classroom go.  Hi guys,  It's Vicky from Teaching and Much Moore and I'm happy to share some ( tried and true ) ideas for you to use in your classroom this month.


Pick up a chair cover from the Dollar Tree that is seasonal.  Walk around the room and when you see a student engaged, working on task and quiet ~ sneak up and place the chair cover on the back of their chair.  I also pick up a necklace ~ so this month it has hearts on it...next month it has clovers etc.  I place it around their neck as well. ( even the boys dig this in third grade ).  As the day goes on I move it around to other children.  At the end of the day whoever has it gets a trip to my treasure chest.


Here's a picture from the other day ~ I picked up a cute felt envelope from the Target Dollar Spot and cut the bottom of it so it opened from the bottom and it fit on the top of our chairs.






Another idea is to bring in a stuffed animal ~ it's a similar idea.  You can place the stuffed animal on a desk and use the same incentive above - prize of some sort at the end of the day....OR you can place it a set of desks and it can be used as extra table points.  Either way the kids love having it. { my favorite animal is a giraffe but you could bring in anything } If you have an owl theme in your classroom bring in a stuffed owl.  Or if it's March bring in a stuffed leprechaun.




My last behavior idea to use is a also great seasonal one for the classroom.  I just started them in November and it's been a big hit for my students.  I call them Behavior Bites and sell them in my store.  Here's a peek ~~~




Thanks for stopping in and visiting with me!  I hope these ideas are helpful and bring more sanity into your life and joy into your students lives. If you are interested in the behavior bites you can grab them { here }
xoxo,
Vicky









Grammar Instruction in the Primary Grades


Happy first day of February, 2016! 

Today, I am tackling a hot topic... grammar instruction.  Ahh yes, the age old question...to grammar, or not to grammar? What is a teacher supposed to do?

Click on the image below to go to Mrs. Rios Teaches and 1) read about what my 20 years of experience in the classroom has taught me about grammar instruction in the primary grades, and 2) pick up your copy of my most popular freebie (305,000+ downloads and counting!) that you can incorporate into your grammar lessons today!


Thanks for stopping by,

Nicole