Friday, February 20, 2015

Beat the Test Day Blues!

We typically have four to eight days of standardized testing depending on the grade level- that's a LOT!  I always struggle with maintaining a balance of academics and fun because I feel so bad for the kids!  After a tough morning of testing, the last thing they want (or I want for that matter) is to do more "work," but you can only extend recess for so long before other issues start to pop up.  I have compiled a list of the projects that have worked successfully over the last few years to not only keep the kids engaged and excited but also maintain an academic atmosphere.  Hopefully you find something that inspires you and your kids! :)

1.  Teacher Exchange
It depends on what motivates your students, but this works well both within your own grade level as well as across grade levels.  Find a partner teacher to switch with and a read aloud that is grade appropriate for your new buddy class. Prepare a really fun art/comprehension activity to go with your book.  Once testing is over, switch places and show off your stuff with your new buddy class.  The change of scenery will do you good, and the kids LOVE having a guest reader.  Try to have a new guest teacher to switch with each day (but keep the same book and idea), and it really gives the kids something to look forward to.

Example:  One of my FAVORITE stories of all time is "Piggie Pie" by Margie Palatini.  It is so much fun to read with opportunities galore for exaggerated noises and expression.  My go to "fun project" for this book is to create a character flap book with a letter to the main character, Gritch the Witch, on the inside of the flap book explaining to her how misguided she was in trying to make Piggie Pie.  It's still academically focused but a relaxed and fun project for the kids to work on.   Here's a cheat sheet for the flap book-
2.  Students Teach "How To" Demonstrations
We love, love, love this project!  It's a great reinforcement for procedural writing and really motivates the kids to put on a show.  Students identify something they are really good at that can be demonstrated to their classmates in 5-10 minutes.  They plan their demo including materials, an appropriate text feature that supports understanding of the project, and procedures.  We set aside 5 afternoons with about an hour each day, and students signed up for a time slot.  It was there responsibility to remember to bring the materials that day.  A reminder in agendas was helpful.  We had lots of recipes (which was great for the antsy afternoons after testing), arts/crafts demos, and my favorite was our jiu jiutsu expert who showed us (successfully) how to break a board- he was the most popular kid at recess the next day!  This is also a great opportunity for you and your kids to learn a little about the special abilities some of your kids have you may not have even known about! Here's a quicky plan you can use in a pinch- thanks to Catherine S. for the freebie border.  If you end up with really great projects, have students complete a final draft of their "How To" plan and bind them into a book for a great end-of-the-year gift.  You can even add a picture of the students doing their presentations to each page if you're really organized!
How To Plan

3.  Student Book Exchange w/ Free Reading Time
This can be done across your grade level or within your room depending on how big you want to make it.  First, we set this up with the librarian and did the actual exchange in the library for reasons you will see in a minute!  Most students had a few books at home that they had read and were willing to part with.  I asked for students to bring in two books each and complete a rating sheet for each.  For students who didn't have books at home to bring in, we worked with the librarian who allowed each student to pick their two favorite chapter books to recommend and we had a special table for our book exchange.  These students also completed two rating sheets for these books.  On the day of the exchange, we displayed all of the books with rating slips attached to their covers on several tables in the library.  Students selected one book of their choice after previewing.  If it was a donated book, it was expected to be returned and become part of the classroom library.  Otherwise, they checked out the books from the library.  We designated 30 minutes of reading time after each day of testing to read in a quiet place.  I also allowed students 5-10 minutes of talk time after reading to share what their thoughts were so far with the original reader of the book.  We all looked forward to this time! Here is a copy of the rating slip.  Enjoy!
Rating Slip

4.   Student-Made Math Games
Brainstorm a list of topics you have studied so far in math.  Select teams and allow time for them to identify one of the topics.  We decided we didn't want repeats and so it was first come, first served for team selection.  As a team, students then develop a title, objectives, materials, rules, and a game board (we used file folders to keep it simple!).  I also put several of our favorite games' instruction manuals on the overhead camera, and we discussed what needed to be included for others to understand and be able to play the game independently.  It took 3-4 days for students to make their games/boards.  We scheduled the last day of testing as our "play day."   During play day, groups set up their games so it was easy to rotate around the room to play one another's games.  We set a timer for 15 minutes per rotation and saved 5 extra minutes to fill out an evaluation for each game.   Students didn't always get to finish the game, but after rotations, we had more time and students were able to select games they wanted to play more of.  I have included a planning template below.

Game Plan

5.  Recycle Days
You may need a little patience for this, but once the kids get started, they are so engaged!  First, you need to send a note home to parents asking for their CLEAN recyclables like egg cartons, paper rolls, jugs, fruit containers, Styrofoam trays, bottle caps/lids, buttons, and any small, unusual objects that the kids visualize as part of their new invention.  We reserved a corner in the room for students to create a stash and had two parts- the pile with grocery bags labeled and reserved for students and the community pile to share with everyone.   I've done this at two different times- once for a compound machines unit which was graded and once just for fun after testing which was not graded.  When we did it as a compound machine activity, we created plans for Rube Goldberg-type machines after perusing the many examples of his crazy machines.  Students then attempted to replicate their plans and presented their projects to the class.  They worked in small groups for this project.  The second time, students were challenged to invent something, anything NEW and they were allowed to work independently, in pairs, or small groups of no more than 3.  Again, they planned their project, replicated it, and then presented them.  Similar to the "How To" projects, we created a sign-up sheet for times/days to present that helped keep the groups focused on a finished product.  As far as safety concerns, I kept ONE small, snap off razor blade with me, and I was the only one who used it.  It helped tremendously with altering plastic bottles, etc.  I also had several hot glue guns which in fifth grade, the kids were very good about using- no one got burnt and the fire department got a day off.  I recommend adding to your parent letter a request for hot glue guns/sticks, duct tape, and masking tape as this stuff disappeared pretty quickly.  Although, it can get a little chaotic, I still found this project to be one of the most satisfying ones, because the students were so engaged with the production and presentation of their final products.  They spent hours without issue which is certainly a welcome reprieve after a long morning of testing!  Here is a list of the suggested recyclables I sent home several weeks before doing the project.
Materials List

Just remember that you've done everything possible to help your kiddos succeed!  They will do their best for themselves and make you proud.  Hopefully one of these ideas will help you celebrate their success and allow everyone to relax a little while still staying academically focused.   I have also created a "Testing Fun Card Game with Writing Menu" that the kids have enjoyed tremendously and has helped me keep them focused.  First, kids play an addictive game of "In a Pickle" which requires students to place various nouns IN each other, defend their decisions, and attempt to steal the card sets from one another.  All of the nouns in this set relate to testing terms/issues except pickle of course...those are the troublemakers and there just to make the kids think a little extra hard!  Once students have collected several card sets, they use these words to complete a selected number of activities from 9 choices on a writing menu.  Also included are more specific descriptions, instructions, and writing templates ready to attach to file folders for independent use, literacy centers, or a quick homework assignment.
Testing Fun on TPT