How to Avoid Testing Burnout

May 3, 2013
Photo credit: ransomtech via flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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?

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