During my first year of teaching, I taught in a testing grade which meant that spring semester was full force in prepping for the upcoming standardized testing. We all dread the test, but we have to deal with it regardless. And classroom transformations are a fun way to amp up the engagement in a classroom, especially during testing season.
Currently, I don’t teach in a testing grade, but I did spend a couple years in 3rd grade so I vaguely remember the stress and worry over the upcoming test. I thought I would take a few minutes to share about how I engaged my students in STAAR prep when I was in 3rd grade.
I also want to make sure that teachers know that you absolutely do NOT have to do a classroom transformation in order to engage your students in meaningful learning. In this pinterest/blogging age we are in, it is really easy to look to your left and right and see teachers doing “fun” things like a classroom transformation and think they HAVE to do it. If spending your whole weekend up at school decorating and prepping isn’t your thing- don’t do it! And don’t feel bad about not doing it! We have to do what we are good at and passionate about and stick to it!
Two weeks prior to the test I completely shifted my classroom into a full on campsite. I put paper up on the walls to simulate the sky. I played “soundscapes” that sounded like the outdoors. Pretty much anyway I could make my classroom feel like the outdoors, I did it. (Important note: This was my first year teaching. I can’t say I would have the same enthusiasm in Year 6.)
The kids came barreling in Monday (after I spent a good six hours on Sunday prepping) and were so excited to see the transformation!
The decorations were fun, believe me! But they were just there to set the stage of intense learning that would be happening over the next two weeks. We spent half a day in reading stations and the other half of the day in math stations. My kids met with me each day, twice a day, so that we could review and practice.
I had four stations set up. Then I grouped the kids into four groups based on their math abilities. They would spend 20-25 minutes at each station. I set a timer and they worked until the timer was up then we would rotate to the next station.
This station was for them to practice their basic math facts (all operations). They could hang out in the tent and practice with a partner or individually. I had the tent positioned so that I could see directly into it.
The next station offered some kind of cooperative learning activity. In this picture above the students are doing a Showdown (Kagan) activity with multiple choice questions. I got these questions out of a STAAR work book, printed them on colored paper, laminated and cut them out. Then the “showdown captain” would draw a question, read it, and everyone would solve the problem. Then they would come together and discuss their answer.
Word problems are SUPER important in math. This station had various word problems on colored construction paper that they could solve independently or with a partner.
The final station was where they got to work with me. We would work on word problems and questions similar to those found on the STAAR test. Depending on the group, I would vary my approach. My lower groups worked along with me while my higher groups worked at their own pace with my coaching.
The reading station management was set up just like math stations. I still only had four stations that they rotated through for 20-25 minutes at each station.
I wanted the kids to have the chance to read quietly and read things that they WANTED to read. So it was important to me to have a D.E.A.R station. Right next to the “campfire” or in the tent was the perfect spot!
At this station students had a small reading passage that they would read and answer questions on. Here they could practice their strategies for reading tests that we had been practicing all year long. Students were able to work alone or with a partner if they felt more successful that way.
Of course there was a station in which they met with me. Here we just practiced reading passages and strategies for answering questions
The final station was a Word Work station. This allowed students to do phonics, parts of speech, conventions, etc. activities to review. (I couldn’t find any pictures of this, I’m sorry!)
These were some of the activities I did. There are a ton out there! In fact, I had a couple of my blogging friends share some of their ideas for creating engaging and meaningful review sessions for their students.
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I know that STAAR (or whatever test your state gives) is overwhelming, exhausting and that no one likes it. But sadly it is here to stay. I hope that you can find fun and engaging ways to prep your students for the dreaded test.
And remember, you or your students are NOT defined by the results of some stupid test. That test doesn’t see the football star that’s out on the field. Nor does it see the growth Eric has made after a year of intervention. It doesn’t see that despite the fact Maggie is still below grade level, she had made multiple gains in math this year. It doesn’t see the smile on Candy’s face when she finally gets it! The test doesn’t get to see the way Naomi came out of her shell. No, STAAR test, you don’t get to see those things! And for that, you don’t get to define my success as a teacher!
Want more encouragement and ideas for engaging your students? Head to iTunes to subscribe to the Simply Teach Podcast! A podcast for teachers, by teachers. A couple episodes you might find helpful are Simply Teach #11: 4 Must Have Behavior Management Plans which will be critical to effectively releasing your kids into small groups to work!
Also, Simply Teach #29 with Katherine Aguirre is a great resource for teachers of ELLs. We talk about ways to engage and support our students learning another language. But! The good news is the strategies we talk about can be used for any grouping of kids!
Until next time,
If you found this post helpful, please make sure to pin it so other great teachers can find it too!
Also….while I was looking through pictures from when I did my first STAAR camp I found pictures of my little bear and the mess he left me one day while I was at work.
It’s fun to go back and find pictures of things I have forgotten ever happened. Luckily, we are past this phase with Mr. Milo.