Getting UN-STUCK: A Test Prep Strategy

Testing season is upon us. Yuck.  We all have experience with standardized tests, for some of us starting all the way back in elementary school.  I will admit it…at times when I was tired of taking the test, knew it wasn’t for a grade, or was simply stuck, I just filled in the bubbles. Haven’t we all done that? I heard stories of classmates filling in bubbles in the shape of a fish, or a smiley face, or…

Here’s the thing. There’s no escaping measurement. We are measured in our adult lives at our physician’s office, at our dentist, and by our creditors when we want a loan (just to name a few). In many ways we face measurement, allowing others to see our choices and skills in number form. Surely there are pros and cons to this, but it’s a reality for all of us starting at a young age in our schools.

So what do we do about standardized testing? Well, it’s not about TEST PREP only.  It’s about laying a solid foundation of learning for your students, year after year.  It’s about providing them with rich tasks, and most importantly teaching them how to change their inner thoughts when encountering difficulty.  (See Carol Dweck and Growth Mindset if you’ve somehow missed it.)

I’ve put together this thinking map to show what happens in my brain when I am stuck.  It’s the actions I take to get myself out of those initial negative thoughts when something doesn’t make sense. Your personal thinking map may be totally different.  I want students to know that perseverance is in actions. So I tried it out in a few 4th grade classrooms last week to see if students might be interested in seeing my thought patterns when I’m stuck. I had the teacher give me a “tough” problem and I modeled how I’d work through it, even though I had those negative thoughts.

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Then they tried it with a Fraction Reasoning Puzzle.  At first, the initial reaction when I gave out the puzzle was kind of like a stunned silence. It was so many words to read, with a strange diagram at the top to figure out…kids were STUCK. Then they started to read it, and read it again, and maybe even once more.

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Murmurs of “Oh! I get it!” started to ripple through the room. One student even wrote down her justifications for her thinking.

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When students got closer to being done, I asked them to walk around and look at others.  The room buzzed with them thinking it through and talking out loud. There were some pretty heated discussions. Some students thought that many of the statements were false because there was no point 0 or point 1 labeled on the line.  At one point one student was SO certain that one of his statements was false (when others thought true), he asked to defend his thinking to the entire class.  He stood up in front of everyone and said, “It’s completely false because there is no such thing as the end of a line, a line goes on FOREVER.”

It was so powerful to see them work through difficulty on their own!  You can find free Reasoning Puzzles by clicking on the image below if you’d like to give it a try in your own classroom:

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