Test. Prep. Those two words present both a challenge and an opportunity for students and teachers alike. Ask any student about their prior experiences, and their visceral dislike of all things test prep becomes evident. Perhaps they are marked by bad experiences, failure, monotonous lessons, or testing anxiety. Check-in with teachers about their feelings, and they would probably express their objections to spending valuable instructional time on test sophistication and preparation. Despite all these deep-rooted and valid feelings, I strongly believe in finding joy in test prep. Test prep pushes me to become a bit more creative, strategic, and laser-focused on student growth—their day to day progress and small victories.
Most folks have probably heard of the quote by Dorthy Parker: "The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." The bottom line is that if we approach each practice reading passage with a sense of curiosity and desire for learning, we can quickly hook our students into wanting to read them. One way that test prep passages can become more accessible and engaging for all learners is by building background. One would be amazed by how many amazing clips are available to support and reinforce our instruction. This week my students had to tackle an Excerpt from Human with Amazing Senses. The article was about echolocation techniques used by humans. A quick YouTube search yielded tons of engaging clips that gave students context, generate excitement and dialogue. The clip allowed students to watch human echolocation techniques in action! I have to admit it was pretty cool, and even I learned something new that day.
Providing students with the opportunity to preview a topic allows students not only to learn but engage with the topics in meaningful ways. Who knew that Excerpt from Fire: Friend or Foe? would lend itself to a real-world application when a small portion of the Bronx River Forest, outside of our classroom window, caught on fire. As kids curiously peeked and chatted about the events, I overheard some of them say, "Hey, remember the article we read this week? Sometimes you have to let portions of the forest burn. Maybe this is prescribed fire."
Just because we are having a little fun with the text doesn't mean that data collection and tracking goes out the window. One way that I have generated excitement while collecting data is by using Plickers (I promise I don't work for them). Plickers are used to collect instant multiple-choice responses from students without requiring students to have clickers, computers, or tablets. Plickers turn assessments or check-ins into an opportunity for collaboration, play, and growth. As a teacher, I have used this as a tool to address student misconceptions, tailor small group instruction, and track student growth and progress towards goals. Using Plickers has provided real-time insight into what every single student in my class understood.
However, none of this matter if lessons are “drill and kill.” Productive struggle is always going to be a big part of the work; that's why keeping it relevant, engaging, and data-driven is vital. We must do less talking and doing. The ownership and bulk of the lift should be on students if we are working towards mastery and independence. Kids will be more willing to engage with complex texts that they feel prepared to tackle.
Remember, we are preparing for the test, so this means that this is our big chance to help them connect the dots, scaffold, track, and bring joy.