Test prep, part 3: pick the right language.

The last big idea I want to share about test prep at SLA does not relate to a specific lesson plan, but to a more general approach I take when working through test prep.

A few weeks ago I got a strong response in class when I told them, “I don’t love that this stuff exists, but I love that I get to show you how it works.” Along those lines there is a lot of language that allows me to do a silly dance around the testing material, the kind which pokes a bit of fun but also makes you perk up and pay attention. Tactics include, but are not limited to:

– Talking about “killing off” answers during process of elimination made one student comment that she felt like a “test assassin” — and the class ran with it. Alternately, making them “test pirates” and having them throw wrong answer overboard.

– Reading sample questions and answer possibilities in my extra-special game show television announcer voice.

– When students are analyzing question types and building their own, describing the process as “getting into the mind of the criminal,” like a detective. “Don’t think about the right answer! How would the test writer come up with the best answer?”

The flip side of this language is how I address the students themselves. (Thanks to Bud for pushing my thinking on how to explain this.)

A few years ago, it was actually an old roommate who busted out the line “you are a unique snowflake!” when I was talking about something or related to motivation and education.

On a whim, I busted it out during my first year of PSSA proctoring at SLA. It stuck immediately. The kids were writing it on the dry erase board at the end of each session by the time we were done.

My full line has now become, “I love you! You are a unique snowflake.”

I use this as a necessary antidote to any moment that threatens to destroy a student’s confidence, stamina, or general interest level. It gets mentioned in class before testing, tacked on to the end of instructions during exams, and is also my response any time a student asks me a substantive question during the test which (they know) I can’t answer.  It’s the buoy that kids can latch onto as their energy wanes, or the salve I can offer them when they frustration is about to bubble over.

There’s a longer post in me about the words “I love you” in school, and how important they are. In this particular situation, it’s the strongest weapon I have against an infrastructure that, intentionally or unintentionally, has greatly restricted my ability to care for my students.

So, to answer Bud’s question, if I can’t find a way to put care in the infrastructure, I give my students love in the face of the system.



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