I like to talk about a “celebration of learning.” What’s a celebration without a little fuss? Boring, that’s what it is.
Remember who you are working with: children. Children like to have fun, they like to participate in exciting things, they like to celebrate! So how come the same adults (teachers) who:
- Decorate for their own children’s birthday parties
- Plan fun activities for their nieces and nephews on the 4th of July
- Cook special food for sporting events
…make little or no effort when it comes to the biggest academic event of the year? It’s the Super Bowl of elementary academic achievement! What, you think kids suddenly stop wanting to have fun when they have to use their brains? If you think this, be warned: test preparation will suffer.
Principals set the tone
I’ve known principals who allow the PTA to make a huge deal out of launching the wrapping paper fundraiser, but send their students trudging off to the testing room under a cloud of gloom like they are little coal miners going to work.
Then they wonder why all the kids are done testing well before noon and the test scores stay flat for another year.
Testing season is a long haul for both kids and teachers. It’s important for teachers and staff to maintain a positive attitude until the very last student has taken the very last make up test.
Which brings me to themes…
The role of testing themes
A theme can be your best friend when it comes to building and maintaining testing motivation because it ties all efforts together into a cohesive approach. It’s best for a theme to be implemented at a building level for maximum impact, but an individual teacher can do a theme in her own classroom with great effect.
A good testing theme meets these criteria:
- It’s catchy, or at least intriguing to all grade levels, including non-testing grades
- It lends itself to easy and colorful graphics and other visual representation
- It’s easy to find supplies for it at local party store or online
- It’s different than at least the last two years (but a longer interval is better)
Bonus if it lends itself to the purchase of thematic, healthy snacks!
Basic components of a theme
It doesn’t take much to incorporate a theme in a building, so don’t avoid it due to a mistaken impression that it’s a lot of work. Just keep it as simple as possible!
Here are the test preparation basics for a building:
- Posters in the hallway
- Announcement in the school newsletter
- Announcement on the school website
- Small notes on each testing computer
If you are theming all by yourself, then here are the basics just for your classroom:
- Posters outside your classroom door
- Announcement in your classroom newsletter
- Announcement on your classroom website (if you have one)
- Email to parents (if possible)
- Thematic Smart Board attendance activities
Of course, you can always add items, as you’ll see in some of my theme ideas below. But I must repeat: keep it simple. We don’t want distractions. Remember the goal is to motivate kids for testing, not to have fun decorating.
(OK…you can have a little fun!)
Testing theme ideas
A play on words or an acronym is a great place to start. For example, when my state test was called the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP for short), I came up with:
- Mighty Smart Pirates. You can find tons of pirate paraphernalia (booty?) at any party store.
- Monkeys with Super Powers. Why do children love monkeys? I don’t know. Ask my husband, who is also obsessed with them!
But you don’t need to get clever with the name. Here’s a theme that works in any situation:
- You CAN Do It! All things “can” related, such as decorated tin can pencil holders and dancing the can-can on breaks.
- The Learning Jungle
- Testing Adventures in Outer Space
- I Mustache You a Few Questions
- Don’t Worry Be Happy (the song and smiley faces)
Or get on Pinterest and do some research.
What’s a celebration without a kickoff? A party balloon that is in danger of going flat, that’s what it is. Principals, this is a key activity for you to organize. All it takes is an assembly. The program should normally include:
- A cheer or chant that all students are familiar with
- Encouraging words from the principal along the theme
- A short music video to inspire students that can be watched again in classrooms
Keep it short. End it with a high-five line so students can slap hands with the principal as they exit the gym.
At a classroom level, a teacher should make time for a small kickoff celebration whether the building does one or not. You can follow the same basic agenda.
The point of the kickoff is to clearly signal to students (and staff) that testing season has officially commenced, that it’s the primary focus of the entire school until it’s over, and that every single staff member is dedicated to making it a success for kids.
Decorations don’t need to be extensive to keep the motivational atmosphere going. The main bulletin board should be decorated thematically, and teachers can decorate their classroom doors. It doesn’t take a lot in the way of decorations to keep kids’ imaginations going, especially if the snacks and supplies are thematic reminders as well.
Don’t forget the hallway area immediately outside the testing room! (See below.)
Testing room decorations
There should be some representation of the theme at each computer station. For example, if the theme is Space Cats, then each station could have a small card (4 inches square) taped to the monitor that has a motivational phrase with a picture of an astronaut kitty.
The computer card must be more than just thematic and motivational; it can also remind kids to read carefully, take their time and to breathe. This is just a tiny, non-distracting reminder that they are part of a group effort even when they are working individually.
Aside from this card, the testing room should not contain any decorations other than the usual instructions for logging on and off, etc. No distracting clutter and nothing that violates the testing protocols.
The hallway outside the testing room, however, should be decorated with motivational items. Students particularly love metallic Mylar fringe hanging in the doorway. It makes the passage into the testing room significant and is a fun reminder that it’s time to get their testing attitude on and try their hardest.
You can get full-length fringes for doors, but a more cost effective way is to purchase a table skirt with Mylar fringe and cut it. It’s shorter, still fringe-y and you can decorate 3 doors with one skirt.
Thematic snacks and water
Snacks can be hard to “thematize.” Some might lend themselves to snacks, such as a few banana pieces for a “monkey” theme. But for a theme like “unicorns” or “moustaches” it’s probably easiest to go with healthy unless you have a brilliant idea for something easy.
Water, however is easy to theme. I’ve printed out labels and taped them around each bottle. It takes a little work but the kids love it. It’s a good activity for a parent volunteer to work on.
If this is to be a whole building effort, then even the non-testing grades must get in the spirit. Kindergarten, first and second grades can be cheerleaders for grades 3 through 6. It is ideal to set them up as partners to create motivational posters for the testing grades. Students can write or decorate notes for their buddy classroom to inspire them.
Such an approach starts to socialize younger grades into the process and excitement of testing, which better prepares them to be successful when they reach the testing grades. If kids are looking forward to testing, you’ve won half the battle!
Other communities within a building, such as developmentally disabled kids, can also be test cheerleaders. When a party is going on, nobody wants to be left out, so look for ways to include every child.