It’s that Time of Year Again
Testing time. That time of year that every student and teacher dreads. Different reasons: same result. I remember all too well the dread from the early days, and how it only grew. The stress. The emphatic you-must-take-this-seriously “stick” approach to helping students do their best. I also remember thinking: there has got to be a better way to do this. Turns out… there was.
And Students are Excited?
I had recently transferred schools, and I was relieved to discover that I had landed at a school that was on average as good as the one I’d left. Some things were better. Some not. Overall though, pretty darn good school. One thing that caught me off guard was the mounting excitement for “the test”.
At first, I thought nothing of the increased energy. I associated that with stress, but this was different. As a classroom teacher, I began to prepare my students with that first talk of what to expect. Only, they were confused. What test? They asked with knowing smiles: do you mean the Brain Olympics? Yeah, we’re excited for opening ceremonies! Then we get to do our best and show what we know! Um… okay. Color me confused.
The Brain Olympics
I asked some of the other staff and they chuckled with knowing smiles combined with eye rolls. Oh, that’s Mr. Kroll’s thing. Just you wait. And I did. The students kept asking too, and we kept working. Preparing.
“Opening Ceremonies” day came and let me tell you: I viewed my principal, Mr. Kroll, in a new light. He had a theme. The kids marched in with posters. They had classroom cheers. There were balloons. There was confetti. My principal inspired students and brought in a guest speaker. He pumped them up and showed inspirational videos of Olympic athletes. Mr. Kroll talked mindfulness and calming strategies. He emphasized that we were brainletes training for our Brain Olympics.
The big moment came and he lit the “torch” (slightly fake for obvious reasons). The 3rd-6th grade students were then sent out to parade past the younger students who cheered them on as they walked through a tunnel of cheering staff and kids and bubbles. They were excited and ready to do their best on the test… I mean Brain Olympics!
My principal had done it. He’d figured out how to reframe the big test so that it was fun and something the students looked forward to. Heck, even the younger students asked when it would be their turn. They were excited to become 3rd graders so that they too could participate in the Brain Olympics. My principal wisely invited them to the closing ceremonies where they could witness the exciting closure, the highlights, the stories, and the celebration of student academic success that is ironically so often missing from our schools.
Later on, we even had a “medals” ceremony for high-performing students that followed as soon as the scores came back, i.e. gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded based on the academic difficulty of the accomplishment (medal earners would then speak at the following year’s opening ceremony).
There were also snacks and prizes along the way to keep the students fed and motivated, but the critical piece was giving them something to look forward to and a positive finish to remember. Extra recesses didn’t hurt either. Most important though was the positive association. Students looked forward to the experience and had good memories following it. Their “emotional” memory of the event was a net positive so they actually looked forward again to the overall experience the following year.
I think the final piece of my principal’s accomplishment that I admire was the sincerity. Since I first witnessed his approach, I’ve seen other schools’ attempts that felt decidedly forced, fake, and more like artificial pep rallies. Our kids still ultimately knew deep down it was a test, but more importantly they knew that they could do it. We believed in them. We celebrated them. We truly cared. And so they believed in themselves. Plus, there were sincere positives along the way with a celebration of their hard work at the end. The Brain Olympics were not a “one off” attempt to pump kids up, but an ingrained part of our school year and school culture: a celebration of learning. After all… shouldn’t celebrating accomplishment in learning be what school is all about?
Ready Washington Webpage: http://www.readywa.org/
Testing “Report Card” for My School: http://reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/summary.aspx?groupLevel=District&schoolId=1584&reportLevel=School&year=2014-15
Test and Item Specs Webpage: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/assessments/development/
Smarter Balance Assessment Webpage: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/
Common Core State Standards: http://www.corestandards.org/
Next Generation Science Standards: http://www.nextgenscience.org/
“The Test” Youtube Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dAujuqCo7s