We’ve been taught to cast every moment with our students as a teachable moment. However, standardized testing is tiring for both teachers and students. How do we keep students engaged when everyone’s suffering testing burnout? The solution may be easier than you think.
Each state has its own standards for standardized testing, and often those standards mean quite a bit of testing throughout the year. We spend our days preparing students to take the tests, and once they finish, everyone feels like deflated balloons: All the air and energy has disappeared. That is testing burnout.
To combat this phenomenon, some teachers show movies, as principal Ben Johnson observed in a recent Edutopia blog post. True, movies are mindless activities that offer respite to overloaded brains, but they’re not beneficial. Johnson instead suggests that teachers assume a more creative approach to planning post-test lessons. Creative lesson planning keeps students engaged. After all, we’re there to teach them, not keep them entertained. Avoiding burnout may require a few tweaks to our lesson plans, but the results are well worth the effort.
It’s easy to say we’ll start taking better care of ourselves, but actually doing it is much harder. When the whirlwind of testing and benchmarks threatens to sweep us away, we must commit to looking out for ourselves. Students benefit from a relaxed and balanced teacher, and we can teach students to take care of themselves. With so many students experiencing burnout today, teaching them how to relax could reap long-term benefits.
Taking care of ourselves usually equates to “me time,” or engaging in an activity that you enjoy. Finding a few moments of quiet meditation is also helpful. Encourage students to engage in “me time” by setting aside a few moments in the classroom for reading, drawing, or meditating. Encourage students — and yourself — to find a strong support system of family and friends with whom they can vent and relax. Create a support group in the classroom by having students talk about their testing experiences, fears, and concerns. They’ll be surprised at how many of their classmates share their feelings.
Creative lesson planning requires a bit of research, but it’s a great way to involve and motivate students. Scour the Internet and pick colleagues’ brains for lesson ideas. Pinterest, for instance, offers many creative lesson plan ideas. Compile these ideas into a list, and then ask students to select a few activities. Students can rank preferred activities, submit ballots, or stand next to the activity they most prefer. Activate the least favored activities first to maintain student interest and build anticipation.
Engaging students in deciding which activities to pursue motivates them to participate because, after all, it was their decision to do that activity. With careful planning, activities can generate a new perspective on test preparation by offering a unique, engaging way to learn the material. Activities can be simple or complex, including a math pairs scavenger hunt, a collaborative essay, or an analytical discussion on a movie clip. You can even engage students in using Pinterest to find creative lessons they’ll like, which incidentally is another creative lesson idea.
A last-minute marathon test preparation session is detrimental to students. Plan test preparation activities in small chunks, so students aren’t overwhelmed by the material. This may mean starting test preparation earlier in the school year. A bit of extra preparation time allows room for helping students understand missed questions and confusing concepts. Better understanding could be the most effective preparation that we can provide our students.
No matter how we plan test preparation, it can seem endless. Don’t we tend to feel better about a project when we see how much progress we’ve made? Create a graph or chart depicting how much material students need to learn for the test, or what benchmarks need to be achieved before test day. Update the chart regularly and post it in the classroom for students to see how far they actually have come. This visual representation motivates students to continue their progress, and it reminds them that the end is indeed near.
If we plan our test preparation activities to allow more time to understand the material, allowing room in our plans to build our students’ confidence shouldn’t be that difficult. Testing can be an intimidating experience for students, and self-confidence plays a significant role in how well students will perform. By building student self-confidence along with traditional test preparation activities, we help prepare them both academically and emotionally for the challenges ahead.
Sometimes building student confidence means encouraging them to discover what they can offer as individuals. Ask them to create a list of their positive attributes and strengths. Create your own list of positive traits that you believe your class possesses to help them generate ideas. Students can also search for positive attributes in others by sharing stories of the people they admire most in a simple classroom discussion, a photo poster, or a multimedia presentation. Encourage students to identify the traits their hero or heroine possesses, and to look for ways that they exemplify those traits in their own lives.
A more long-term activity could be asking students to create a one-year, five-year, and ten-year plan for their lives early in the school year. Since many standardized tests occur late in the school year, use the weeks before to revisit these plans to show students how far they’ve come in achieving their life goals.
Standardized testing can indeed be stressful for students and teachers alike. However, with careful planning, we can create activities for our students that relax them from the pressures of test preparation while continuing their engagement in educational pursuits. Building student confidence, teaching them to seek other outlets for their stress, strategically planning activities, and offering other educational activities all ease the tension of testing.