I spent a late night working on a set of multi-step word problems. Yes, it is my spring break, but I have all but decided to discontinue use of my districts adopted textbook. (I just fantasized about moving the stack of textbooks in my storage cabinet to our storage closet when I get back from break). The textbook just isn't engaging and when I use it, I have to send students to so many pages with SO LITTLE practice on the same type of problem that it is futile. I have used it all of 3 times this year I bet, but that's mainly because of the strong love for task cards <3 that I have developed this year.
Yesterday I was reading Rachel Lynette's post about (not) making test prep materials. Rachel says she has quit making task cards specifically for test prepping and I can only applaud her for this tough decision. I personally don't mind testing too much. During 4th quarter, I keep a cool head, prepare questions that look and sound more like the test, and do my best to encourage students. After reading many of the comments on the blog post, I have to be so APPRECIATIVE of my district this year. We have moved away from multiple-choice benchmarks in ELA and Math to open-ended assessments. You know, the kind you might actually design yourself if you had the time and had not been brainwashed by a system of multiple choice (easy to grade) assessment? Our benchmark assessments are created by a team of teachers (not getting paid extra, not trying to make money off of testing kids), not giant test-textbook corporations. And these assessments are constantly going through a revision process so that they will be better next year.
So, Rachel's post put me through a little reflection as my goal was to create some math questions to help my students get ready for the EOG's. Although you can call it test prep, I feel I am really polishing the skills they learned earlier in the year based on Common Core Standards. As "Test the Season" is upon us, my goals remain the same--provide challenging, relevant, fun math work for students. And after years of doing this, I know it comes down to a little bit of skill and a lot of survival strategies.
When I am faced with an EOG problem that makes my eyes go crossed a little (see below):
Upon closer look at this set of released questions, one would find that not all of the problems are multi-step, but I think that students will be so stressed by the other problems they will hardly breathe a sigh of relief when they get to the easier questions.
Combine Rachel's post with word from my new principal that we shouldn't be "test-prepping" as the year winds down, and here I am. Here's what I believe:
* As the adults in the room we HAVE to prepare our students for the future (in the short-term, that means a test in May). Our parents expect it and our students deserve it.
* As the ones with the most experience, we must unlock the secrets of the test and unveil that for students. We must not allow them to sit in a fog of unpreparedness during the week of testing.
* We do not need to cheer for the test. We do NOT need to call it SURVIVING the test. We DO NEED to constantly mention HARDWORK, PERSEVERANCE, BELIEF IN ONESELF, and remind students of how hard they have worked all year and how much they have grown.
* We can teach (most) test-prep skills in a way that is transferable to many environments.
In many places, testing~failure~ results in re-testing (sometimes 2 more times before the last two weeks are over). When faced with these unfair consequences, I believe we have to ethically do everything in our power to help our students achieve. This includes teaching with a sense of urgency ALL~YEAR~LONG, maintaining an engaging learning environment, and not betraying out students' trust with DRILL-KILL-SNOOZE as we get closer to the test.
If things were different, some of my beliefs might be different. But, the state of testing is not different yet. So while we "teachers in the trenches" keep fighting for it to change, we have to prepare our students for these tests while maintaining our CORE beliefs.
I also believe there is a time and a place for pencil to paper~packets of practice~work, mainly because of the beast of testing that our society enforces on our students, but that mode of reviewing skills does not have to (or need to) happen every day up until the test. So, it hit me (like it's hit me all year in waves), I need to focus my
math word problem sets on themes that are relevant to students. I will try my
best to make sure the products I am creating for "test-prep" usage are
just as engaging as the products I create and use with my students all
Keeping it relevant and fun, I have worked on word problems with a "School Supply" company theme and am working on word problems related to Washington, DC (so my kiddos can relive memories of our field trip through math problems). Here's a sneak peak at my School Supply MULTI-STEP Word Problem Set that is almost finished! Check back later today for an update and explanation of this product.
Clip Art/Image Credits:
Coverpage Purple Chevron Background
by Mrs. Dixon @ Teaching Special Thinkers
Silly Frames, Crayon Frames, and School Supply Clip Art by the 3AM Teacher