Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Building Confidence as Test Prep

By on April 29, 2008

 Well, CSTs are around the corner.  You can hear them coming from a mile away, huffing and puffing like an overweight uncle trying to keep up at a family picnic.  They burst onto the scene with great academic hysterics. We have emergency meetings, special documents to sign, and salmon or goldenrod strategies to hand out to the kids school wide that include such sage wisdom as “Get sleep.”  

Inside the classroom, around this time of year, the tone tends to change.  Teachers become more aware of the gaps in the standards that have yet to be taught because they were scheduled in the pacing plan for late May.  
In fact, why not just end the school year after these standardized weeks?  I mean, for some reason unbeknownst to me, we have to be assessed on the entire year’s work in May, so doesn’t it mean we should then toss our study guides and #2 pencils into the air and run out the doors at the final bell?
Revision strategies have been practiced.  Princeton Review Vocab Minute podcasts have been hummed.  Prefixes have been studied.  The unique language of testing has been translated.  Released questions (those questions that were too sucky to remain in the test bank) have been beaten to death.  And so I’ve decided to start a new test prep unit… 

It’s called: “You’re ready.”  

That’s right.  Everyday I just tell them that they’re ready.  And then I chunk what I know about the test into bites that make it seem like a piece of cake.  
They’re ready to bubble little circles.  They’re ready to read 3 paragraph passages and indicate the main idea.  They’re ready to identify vocabulary words, and to not be freaked if they’ve never heard the word.  After all, the knowledge of prefixes, roots, and suffixes gives them the power to puzzle through these challenges even if they don’t know that they know it.  It’s called instinct.  And after 8 months of teaching and learning and absorbing, they have some modicum of it.  Now they just need to trust it.
Does it always work?  No, of course not.  After all, there isn’t some book out there for middle schoolers like “The Secret” that says if you just think “proficient” hard enough, it’ll happen.  But what I am talking about it spending some time leading up to these tests counterbalancing all of the negative input these students have heard about themselves or about their school.
They’ve heard the words Program Improvement.  Now, the thing they most need to hear is Their Improvement.  
So spend some time in these days leading up to the tests showing the students how far they’ve come.  If you must, get a copy of their scores from last year’s CST and show them just how close they came to their goal. Knowing the concrete realities of what it takes to pass does a lot for a student’s confidence.
So, let’s invest in this one little unit.  In fact, let’s start this form of test prep as early in the year as we can.  It’s not often that a teacher says, “You’re ready.  I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either.  You’ve worked hard and this is just a way to show others what I already get to see every day.”
How do you Build Confidence as Test Prep?
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