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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Avoid Testing Burnout

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

I walked into three different classrooms today and saw three different movies. This week, some of our students were taking standardized tests. Is there a correlation? In Texas this year, our high school students will spend over 33 days taking state standardized tests. The new and quite controversial STAAR tests at the secondary level require students to pass five tests each year and keep taking them until they have passed them all.

Conceivably as a worst-case scenario, their junior year, some students could be taking 15 tests. If this is bad for students what about teachers? Teachers are tired. Teaching was supposed to be fun, what we liked to do, our passion. Movie-showing teachers across the nation could be suffering from Testing Burnout.

Are You Suffering from Testing Burnout?

Consider these questions:

  • Do you struggle to find energy to revisit the objectives your students just are not mastering?
  • Is it strenuous to try to make test-prep workbook drills engaging?
  • Have you made deals with your students that if they do their best and work hard before the test they can have a rest and recuperation day?
  • Are benchmark testing graphs and tables causing your eyes to cross and water?
  • As testing approaches, do you ask yourself, "How can I prepare effective learning opportunities if half of my students are testing?"
  • Or you ask, "What am I or any of my students gaining from all this testing?"

What's the cure? I would like to say there is an easy cure: put the lime in the coconut and call me in the morning. But that would be too easy. My solution is two-fold: part depends on the teacher and the other part depends on the students. The teacher part is coming up with creative ideas, Pinterest-like. Look through magazines, books and talk to colleagues to mine them for ideas and create a list of doable learning activities that would bring variety to enhance the learning engagement of students. They could be low-tech like giving students one of the pairs of a definition or a mathematical problem and having them find their partners, or it could be high-tech like asking students to use Popplet to create the first draft of an expository essay on "How to Train a Dragon." The point is that the teacher comes up with the ideas and creates a menu.

The students' part is to pick three or four learning activities they would like to do from the list as a class. Then the students need to rank them in terms of which one they prefer most to which one they prefer least. You could have them do straw votes, vote with their feet by standing next to the option they prefer, or simple paper ballots. I prefer having students vote with their feet.

I put the student choices in the four corners of the room and have the students stand next to the first choice, second choice, etc. Majority wins. Then the teacher starts with the least favorite activity, and builds momentum until the students can participate in the most favorite.

Unfortunately simply watching entire movies is a passive activity, designed to help students not think, but watching segments of a movie (we can watch 10 minutes without infringing on copyright), if accompanied with analysis or critical thinking learning activities can be educationally invigorating.

If planned right, the active and engaging learning activities will make the students engaged and prepared right up to the testing time. Because the students have been part of the process, they feel more obligated than normal to participate. Because students are cooperating more, this variety of learning strategies gives you a break from the stress of forcing the normal drill and kill efforts on the students.

Who knows, it may be fun enough to even kindle another flame of education passion so you can last until the end of the year! What Pinterest teaching ideas have you found successful in combating testing burnout?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Monya's picture
Monya
10th Grade Chemistry

Great ideas! I wish would have found your suggestions earlier. I will be thinking of ways to incorporate your ideas I prepare my students for their final exam.

Thanks!

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educational Consultant/Author, Southern California

Enjoyed this article, well-written with humor. Yes,"bring variety to enhance the learning engagement of students." One year as an ELA teacher, I found all the humorous selections in the text and we did them to relax. And found selection-related humorous videos also. And games and art in the seventh grade class. And whoever designed the pic at the top--you are so funny. Great humor. Thank you, needed that.

ClaudiaSwisher's picture

There's another reason teachers may resort to films during class -- we never know who will and will not be attending classes. Our students may be testing and be pulled out of our class to complete the work. This is another side-effect of testing. Students actually miss other classes to test. Teachers must decide whether to plow through content, never certain who might miss for one test or another. Instruction is completely disrupted for everyone in the building, not just teachers in tested areas. Add AP testing, which follows a national schedule, and it's no joke that instruction ends in April. How do you teach with one third (and a different one-third) of your students missing each day?

Ms.Garcia's picture
Ms.Garcia
High School English Teacher from Navajo Nation

After our state test, I choose a novel for us to read together that we can take our time to dissect author choices and relations to real world situations. Without the pressure to "plow through" certain objectives, I think we enjoy it better.

Right now we are reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and today we did a class activity on social classes in the U.S. I give them some terms to define like the different types of social classes and then I randomly hand them four playing cards. Each suit is assigned to be either education, wealth, income, or occupation. Then the numerical value is associated with high, middle, or lower on the class scale. Once students have this, they must create a character that fits in their social class and describe their job, family life, dreams/goals/aspirations, and how other people think of them. It's a lot of fun and it helps reinforce the next day's lesson on Lee's commentary on social class in Maycomb.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

Ms. Garcia:
You are absolutely correct. There is a tremendous amount of pressure to "plow through" the curriculum. There always has been a lot of pressure to get the through the curriculum, but state testing has made it worse. I appreciate that after the testing you do not stop learning in your classroom. Perhaps the best things that could be done is to start front loading for the next year's testing cycle.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

ClaudiaSwisher:

Knowing that instruction ends in April really is not a laughing matter. The entire month of May becomes a pseudo day care instead of instructionally productive time. How do teachers deal with that... they do things with students that don't matter if they are there or not. Interestingly enough, Texas Standardized tests and the AP tests are happening right now, all at the same time. I feel sorry for the students and the schools that have to prepare for two major testing systems at the same time. Hang in there. Something has to give.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Debora Wondercheck's picture
Debora Wondercheck
Executive Director, Founder of Arts & Learning Conservatory

Great suggestion!!!! well-written, your blog has a very good content and quiet detailed ,active and engaging learning activities will make the students engaged and prepared right up to the testing time are some of good points some something more from you great one keep updating , the theory of learning by doing. Arts and crafts offer children endless opportunities to learn by doing. And they are likely to remember what they learn! Brain researchers tell us that children retain more information when hands-on activities go along with that learning. Children learn:

10% of what they READ
20% of what they HEAR
30% of what they SEE
50% of what they HEAR and READ
70% of what they SAY and,
90% of what they DO!

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