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February 11, 2011

Week 22: Presidential Holidays, and the Testing Two-Step

Well, in and amongst all of the February celebrations, we somehow have to find time to get all of our testing done, since our upcoming reporting period will be ending soon.  So I find myself trying to figure out ways to keep groups of children occupied so that I can steal a few moments “alone” with each one for testing.  My goal is always to get it done early enough so that I can help the few kids that are “straggling” along on a few concepts. That way, I can help them a little bit more and then retest the children again at the very last minute if I think they may have mastered some of the concepts. 
Besides all of the regular holidays, we also have a field trip to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA next week on Wednesday, plus our school’s annual Jump Rope For Heart fund raiser for the American Heart Association on Friday.  So I am trying to take advantage of every teachable and testable moment that we have, because of course before I know it, February will be GONE!
As far as I am concerned, there is nothing worse than spending all your time in the classroom testing and then doing nothing educational with the results of those tests.  So I keep reminding myself of this fact:  the purpose of administering these tests is NOT so that I can fill out a report card.  It is so I can deliver better instruction and better meet the children’s needs.  When I know exactly which sight words they know, which CVC word families they need help with, and which phonemic awareness concepts they have mastered and which they need to work on, then I can teach all the more efficiently.  Of course, this is based on the assumption that I am allowed to make my own lesson plans based on what my children have mastered and what they need to work on, rather than what the teacher manual’s script says to do.  But that’s a different issue, so let’s not go there!

1.  Getting Testing Done Efficiently – and Making it MATTER

Here are a couple of things I do to help get testing done quickly and making the most of my time:

*  Get the testing supplies out the night before.  Make a list of kids that need to take that test.  I have a small desk set aside with all of the testing supplies on it and I leave it set and ready so that I can immediately test whenever there is a spare moment.

*  I keep a check off list of kids names and write their scores in pencil next to their names.  That way I can easily see who still needs to be tested and what the scores are.  I can also note the trends that are appearing, too.  For example, when I tested on Concepts of Print, I wrote each test question across the top of the check off sheet.  Then I put a check mark each time a child answered correctly, but a dot if the child was asked but answered incorrectly.   So as I look at my chart, I can quickly see which concepts were internalized well and which were not.  So, now I know what I should review with the whole class, and what I should review with certain groups, etc.  As I continue teaching and it seems that certain children have mastered a skill, I pull them and test them again. 

*  I try to keep a few extra “fun and easy” coloring types of worksheets that the kids can do alone on hand during the testing season, just in case I need to give the class something while I test some children individually.  I don’t do this very often, but when I have to, I will.

*  If there is a very “mechanical” test that can be done by a volunteer, then I will let a reliable volunteer do it.  Tasks such as listening to the kids count to 100, count objects, sort, or identify shapes are good examples of tests that I generally feel comfortable letting a reliable volunteer administer.  These tests work well being given by volunteers because the answers are solid and objective; there is no guess work involved in deciding whether or not the child got the answer right. 

*  If I can get to it, I send home lists of words or skills that children need to work on about a month or so before the reporting period ends.  At that time of year, parents are usually well motivated to help their children improve so that they can get a better report card.  If they get this list after the report card is given, I believe that much of the urgency is gone, since they know that they have several more months to help their child before the next report card is due.

*  I create practice tests that looks just like the real thing whenever I can.  Very often, it’s the format of the test that messes the kids up.  So once I think my students have mastered a concept, I teach them how to do a worksheet that looks like their test.  That way, when they see the test for the first time, they don’t “freeze up” and forget everything just because it is a brand new format.  I am including a couple of my practice tests for you here as free downloads;  they are for writing the alphabet and writing the numbers 0-30. The second page on each one has an example of a correctly done paper that you can send home with kids so that parents will know what you are looking for in terms of “correct.”   I hope they are useful to you!

*  Whenever I am done with a test, I always ask myself:  what did they learn well, and why?  What did the kids not learn well, and why?  What did I do wrong?  Anytime a more than 10-15% of the class misses a single concept, I go on the assumption that I didn’t teach that concept well enough, and I need to think of a better way to do it and try again.  And in my opinion, this is one reason why scripted texts can’t possibly work as well as a teacher with a brain in her head and some solid reasoning skills can.  You have to be able to figure out what is working (or not working) with certain children, and then have the freedom to try to teach it in another way so that you can reach all of the learners in your class.  If you have to follow a script while you teach, you can kiss that possibility good-bye.

2.  Fun Concept Review:  Power Point Presentations with your STUDENTS in them!

Speaking of helping the kids catch up on any missed concepts, I started a new thing this week that I mentioned on my HeidiSongs Facebook page , and it is working out so well that I wanted to mention it here.  I decided that we needed to drill a bit more on the sight words, but I wanted to be able to do it whole group in a fun and engaging way.  So I thought of taking pictures of each child holding a large sign with a sight word printed on it, and then putting this picture into a Power Point presentation.  Then I drilled the entire class on the words using that presentation!  We have had a ball this week looking at the pictures and reading the words.  I highly recommend it! 

Of course, only AFTER I went to all of the trouble of writing up the words on full sized pieces of construction paper and taking pictures of all of my students, I realized that I could have used any existing pictures that I had of my students and added a large text box with the word in it!  And the words and text could have been in any font, in any color!  I realized this because one of my students was out sick the entire week while I was trying to take the photos, but I didn’t want her to be left out even for a day, so I just went through my other pictures in iphoto and picked a couple of cute ones and added a text box.  Because these pictures were especially cute and different than the rest, they got a HUGE reaction from the kids!  Luckily, the child in the photo also laughed right along with the other children and was not upset about it.  But I did ask her if she would rather have a “regular” picture of herself holding the word like everyone else, or if she would prefer to have me leave it, and she expressed her desire for me to change it to be like everyone else’s.  I got that accomplished by Thursday, (yay!) but each day as we watched the first version of it, I was reminded of a valuable lesson I once learned:  the brain loves novelty, and my students have brains!

They LOVED the different pictures of their classmate, and the next time I make one of these drill and practice presentations, I am going to try and insert some really cute existing pictures of the kids doing things they have done throughout the year, or at least pose them in different places around the room.  Then I can superimpose the word or number, etc., somewhere in front of the picture where it won’t hide too much of it.  I’ll let you know how it works!
I also learned to move the hardest “look alike” words, such as “with” and “white” to slides that are right next to each other.  That way, I can show the slide and then the next, and then back up to drill on those couple of words many times and play the “I’m going to see if I can fool you!” game with them.  I am also planning on changing the words around that they are holding so that the children that have the hardest time paying attention are holding the words that are the most difficult to learn.  I can’t wait to see how that works!!!!

3.  A Creative Flag Art Project

One thing that I really enjoy doing with my class in February is having them design their own red, white, and blue flag with their third grade book buddies.  I give them a full sheet of 12 x 18 white construction paper, plus red and blue pieces of paper in a variety of sizes and shapes.  I also give them some stars xeroxed onto red, white, and blue paper, star shaped confetti, crazy scissors, hole punchers.  The children also painted some red and blue designs on white paper with some interesting scrapers and rollers that I purchased at an educational supply store.  So we cut up some of this paper as well for them to use on their flags.  I encourage the children to make some three dimensional effects on their flags, such as curled or accordion folded paper.  Here are some pictures of my samples.

We are making our flags on Friday next week with our book buddies, so I will post some pictures of the children’s work soon.  But I wanted to pass along the idea with plenty of time for you to use it if you like, and I am including the master with the stars as a free download for you here.  Enjoy!

4.  The Sound Deletion Bingo Game REALLY WORKS!

Here is a game that I developed that is designed to help kids practice the skill of sound deletion.  (Sound deletion is a phonemic awareness skill commonly taught in both kindergarten and first grade, and is on the famous DIBELS test.)   In this game, the children listen to the bingo caller say a word and are asked to say it back without the beginning sound.  Then they find the word on their bingo board without that beginning sound.  For example, the bingo caller might say, “What’s ‘sit’ without /ssss/?”  Then the child would find the word “it.”  Therefore, the children must use both their phonemic awareness and reading skills to play.  The first person to cover all of the spaces on their board is the winner. 

Over the past month, I have had a really wonderful parent volunteer play this game a couple of times with the groups of children that have seemed ready for it.  Other than that, I BARELY covered this difficult phonemic awareness skill at all.  Boy, was I surprised when after pulling the kids for testing, about 75% of the class actually passed this test!  One of my students was able to get eight out of ten of the sound deletion questions correct, but passed almost NONE of the other phonemic awareness skills that were supposed to be prerequisite skills that come before sound deletion!  I don’t really understand how he could have picked up this skill without developing any of the other skills that usually come first, but I guess this is the power of the motivational game.  That child LOVES bingo!  And in order to play the game, he had to figure out how to do sound deletion.  I suppose this means that I really should create other phonemic awareness bingo games, right?  In any case, the Sound Deletion Bingo Game is now posted for sale as a download on the game page of our website.  Check it out!

5.  We love the Counting to 100 song!

Is there a better time to sing the counting to 100 song than on the 100th day of school?  We certainly enjoyed it!  I hope you enjoy this video clip of my students singing the counting to 100 song on the 100th day of school, while wearing their Hundredth Day Hats!  This song is on both the Jumpin’ Numbers and Shakin’ Shapes CD/DVD, and the Musical Math CD/DVD.  :