Sunday, September 27, 2015

Terrific Tips for Better Test Scores

Test on Friday. These words strike fear in most students from first graders to college seniors. They worry that they'll forget the material they've already studied or that  they'll face questions they can't answer.

There is always some anxiety associated with taking a test, and for some kids, the anxiety can negatively impact their performance.  Students may know the material, but through unfamiliarity with the test format, a misunderstanding of the directions, illness or fatigue, they may not perform well.  Standardized tests are commonly given on the computer, which many young children treat like a video game, quickly clicking any answer just to make it to the next "level",  while students lacking computer expertise struggle with the technology, lowering their performance.

There are several things parents can do to help a child prepare for tests to reduce anxiety and maximize performance.

Before the Test
  • Make sure your child gets a good night's sleep.  Don't stay up late cramming information, but break it down into manageable chunks to be reviewed over a period of time.
  • Feed your child a good breakfast in the morning. Proper nutrition helps the brain work more effectively and keeps the child energized.
  • Teach your child deep breathing techniques to reduce anxiety. Deep breathing calms the brain, allowing the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus to access learning and memory.
  • Ask about the test format. Will it be essay, multiple choice, true/false or short answer? Knowing the format helps determine how to best review and practice the material.
During the Test
  •  Instruct your child to read the directions of each section of the test and follow them carefully.  Instructions such as "Record the answer which DOES NOT apply," or "Using the diagram of a basic electrical circuit, explain the function of EACH PART," can be easily misinterpreted if a student is careless about reading directions.
  • Advise your child to work through the examples. Examples are given to familiarize students with the section format and directions. If a student has trouble understanding the examples, he will have difficulty with the actual test questions.
  • Tell your child to be aware of deadlines on timed tests. A student shouldn't spend a lot of time on the multiple choice section if she needs to write a lengthy essay at the end of the test.
  • On essay tests, students should write everything they know about the topic on a separate sheet of paper. Organize these notes into an outline before writing the essay. The outline will help them stay organized and include key information.
  • On multiple choice tests, your child should eliminate incorrect answer choices immediately.  This narrows the field of possible correct choices.
After the Test

Students should use any remaining time to check their work.  Rework math calculations, make sure an essay or short response paragraph answers all the requirements of the test question, check spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

When you get the test back, review the results. Check for any gaps in understanding to review the areas of difficulty.  Remember, a test is only one way to assess learning. Many high-achieving students perform poorly on tests due to test anxiety.  To lessen their stress,  I remind my students before each test that a test is to let me know what they've already learned, so I can teach them what they need to know.

Tests are a necessary tool to assess student achievement and will always be a part of your child's academic environment.   Teaching children how to prepare, execute, and review tests will help them maximize their performance and achievement.  Test on Friday?  No problem!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Children and Lies

Some of my math manipulatives had mysteriously gone missing. A plastic deli container full of buttons was reduced to a fraction of the original amount. The glass blobs, which were smooth, pastel discs used for sorting and patterning exercises, were also missing.  Puzzled, I called a class meeting to get to the bottom of the mystery. 

"Boys and girls, we have a mystery to solve. " The kids gathered around, excited that the mysteries that I read to them every day were about to be reenacted in real life.

I showed them the containers.  "Our supplies from the math center have gone missing."  They were visibly disappointed.  Apparently, I was the only one who was not in on the mystery.

 "It's Amanda," one boy said. "She put them in her book box."
Amanda vehemently denied it.

 "It's true," said another student. "I saw her." Many other kids nodded their heads in agreement. 

I looked at Amanda, who was scowling at the whistleblowers, and said, "Let's not accuse someone without proof.  If you know what happened to the supplies, please write what you know on a piece of paper and return it to me." I passed out post-it notes and the children began writing.  Note after note produced Amanda's name. Some notes included details of what happened.  One note said "Mark" but I figured that was Amanda's contribution to solving the mystery. 

The children went to Music class, and I searched Amanda's desk and backpack.  There were no buttons or glass blobs, but there were 3 magnifying glasses, 2 bags of volcanic rocks from our science kit, two writing correction pens, a decorative magnet that another child had made for me,  and three books that belonged to other children.

I collected these items, and held Amanda back from recess to discuss my findings with her.  "I'm concerned that your name turned up on almost all of the notes about the missing math supplies.  Can you help me figure out what happened to them?"

She vehemently denied taking anything, and volunteered no information about what had happened.    I produced the things that were in her desk and backpack, and she denied taking them from class. When I pressed further, she accused a little boy who sat next to her of putting them in her desk and backpack.  I called her home and spoke to her parents, who had been quite mystified by the items she was bringing home.  Amanda told them that I had given her gifts for doing well on spelling and math tests.  I explained that while she was doing very well on her tests, I wasn't giving her gifts, and these items were needed classroom supplies.   I asked her parents to have Amanda return the things to class tomorrow.

I thought of Amanda's story as I listened to the Today Show's segment about children and lying.  It included findings based on a study by the University of Sheffield.
According to the Today show segment about the study,  135 children were tested,  and the findings have "revealed that the liars in the group performed better on a trivia test than honest children."  Psychologists reached this conclusion due to the fact that "lying requires thought and memory skills — a child who is not telling the truth needs to be able to keep their story straight." Apparently, children who lie use their memory to recall fabricated details, fictional series of events, and alterations of facts, makes them smarter than children who tell the truth.

This is so sad to me as both a mom and a teacher.  A child who tells the truth and owns up to a situation even knowing there may be consequences, shows integrity.  A child who lies may use more of their brain or cognitive processes to fabricate the lie, according to the University of Sheffield study, but lacks the integrity and honor of a child who tells the truth because simply because it is the right thing to do. 

Amanda returned some of the pilfered items the next day, with an apology letter written to me for her actions.  I told her that I accepted her apology, and stressed the importance of telling the truth.  Trust is not as easily replaced as school supplies.  Actions, such as stealing have consequences, but lying also has consequences.  That is something that honest children are smart enough to know.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Productive Parent-Teacher Conferences

It's mid-October and the school year is well underway.  I have finished assessments, gotten to know the children, their interests, friendships, strengths and areas of difficulty, and the first report cards have yet to go home.  I'm looking forward to 3 nights of parent conferences; 15 minutes when I can learn from the people closest to my students, what interests them, motivates them, or causes them difficulty.

When parents have prepared their own comments and questions, it makes the process truly collaborative - teacher and parents working toward the success of a child.  Here are some ways to make those 15 minutes count!

  • Ask your child if they have any concerns.  During the hectic pace of a school day, problems your child is having become forgotten, often surfacing during car rides or at bedtime.  Write these down, and ask the teacher about them.  Notify the teacher if there is anything happening at home that may affect your child's progress at school.  The death of a pet, the birth of a sibling, or a move to a new house all affect children in different ways, and often have an impact on school performance. 
  • Ask the teacher what they notice about your child during the school day.  A typical school day is 6.5 to 7 hours long.  The teacher can give you an idea about how your child works and plays with other children,  if she demonstrates areas of strength, or appears challenged.  Your child may have struck up a friendship in school that you can encourage  through play dates at home. The teacher spends a lot of time building a community of learners.  Find out how your child interacts with others her age within the classroom community.
  • Discuss homework.  Too much or too little?  How much should you help your child?  Should you  let her do the work on her own?  What is the best time to do homework?  Right after school, or is after dinner and soccer practice better?  Let the teacher know your concerns and ask her for her expectations.
  • Strengths and challenges.  Every child has areas of strength, as well as areas that could be strengthened. Does your child have an interest that could be a learning opportunity?  If he hates to write but loves Minecraft or shipwrecks, perhaps he can be encouraged to write a report on an area of interest to share with the class. Does your child struggle with timed math fact tests?  Help develop a strategy for increased practice (computer programs such Cool Math and Moby Max are great ways to strengthen math skills in a fun way.)
  • Plan for the future.  Ask what projects are upcoming and how to best prepare your child for them. Address and correct behavior concerns before they become ingrained habits.  Make a plan for growth toward established objectives.  Ask for more challenging work for your child if she appears bored by the classwork, or extra help if the work appears too challenging.
A parent-teacher conference is a great time to advocate for your child in partnership with your child's teacher.  Keep lines of communication open, and remember that teachers work with children to help them grow and learn.  They really want what's best for your child, as do you.  Developing this relationship will help your child soar!