From the desk of Carol C. . .
“Learning should be a joy and full of excitement. It is life’s greatest adventure.” –Caldwell
When I first started teaching, kids didn’t take any End of Grade tests. Instead, they took the California Achievement Test (CAT). I don’t know what it was like at other schools, but at the school where I taught an enormous amount of pressure was put on teachers to make sure their students scored extremely well. My first year at this school my class was made up of several truly gifted students, a large number of average students, and a few who spoke limited English. It was a great class!
The CAT was administered in March of each year. Near the beginning of February that year I started reviewing everything I had taught in language arts and math. I was determined to have my students ready to score well. As the weeks progressed I spent more of my class time drilling what I had already taught and cramming in what I hadn’t yet covered. I emphasized how important it was to do well on this test. I was on the right track I told myself.
With a few weeks to go before the BIG test I ran into the parent of Jenny, a child in my class, at the grocery store. This child was one of the brightest children I have ever taught. Jenny’s mom and I chatted for a few minutes. When we started wrapping up our conversation, Jenny’s mom stopped me in my tracks. She said, “I want to tell you again Jenny has so enjoyed your class this year…well until recently. She has been reluctant to come to school and is anxious about her schoolwork. She tells me there’s lots of reviewing, and she knows she has to do well on this test that’s coming up. I don’t mean to criticize, but I thought you’d want to know.”
I really don’t know what I said to her. I suspect I told her how important this test was, mumbled something about being sorry, and assured her I would figure out how to alleviate at least some of her daughter’s anxiety. Back at home I agonized over what to do to help Jenny and others in my class who were surely feeling the same way. I felt terrible that I had taken the joy out of learning in exchange for scores on a test. That night I made a list of ways I was going to review but continue to teach the new curriculum without a sense of cramming it down my students’ throats. I still have my list.
Limit my review to no more than 20-30 minutes a day if that.
Make the reviews more enjoyable. Play a game such as Jeopardy with each table being a team. Ensure that my affect was more lighthearted than it had been.
Reassure the kids that they had worked hard all year and they were going to do well. Emphasize all I wanted and all their parents wanted was for them to do their best.
Keep on teaching LA, math, science and social studies. Reinstate creative art activities.
These four ideas which I began to live by again made all the difference in lowering my anxiety and my students’. It was amazing! My class found their positive attitudes and excitement about learning again.
It is extraordinarily difficult to put test sophistication and intensive review on the back burner. In these times pressure comes not just from a principal but from parents, top administrators, politicians, and most importantly from ourselves. Sometimes it feels as if we can hardly breathe under the weight of the expectations. There is some sense the tide may be turning against such high stakes testing, but until this becomes a reality we have to keep our priorities straight. I try to remember that feedback is what grows learners and not a score on a test. Just as importantly I try to remember I want my students to be lifelong learners and to do that they must find the joy in learning!