It’s that time again. You know… the time where you have to either take down your entire classroom or cover every resource with butcher paper, even though there is a month of school left. The time where desks go in rows, countdowns begin, art projects are taken down, flexible seating options are put away and you make sure you have a place to double lock materials and store extra snacks. It’s “I can’t help you, just do your best” time. It’s state testing season.
You’ve prepared for this the entire year. Even if you don’t focus much on “the test” in your classroom and in your school, you’ve still been preparing for it. You know the standards that will be tested and the kids know (dread) that this happens each year. However, no matter how great of a year you and your students have had or how awesome your classroom culture is this time of year always seems incredibly stressful.
I know you’ve had the talk with you students about how one test doesn’t measure their worth. One test doesn’t tell them if they’re a good brother, sister, friend. One test doesn’t show anyone that they’re a really good artist, that they stand up to bullies, or are extremely compassionate. One test does not define their future success in life and a label of “Novice” or “Apprentice” may show us that they aren’t there “yet” in terms of learning some standards, but it doesn’t mean they are less than. I know you’ve told them that you’re proud of them always, no matter what. But regardless of how you and your students view testing, it happens, and we must all put forth our best effort to try to be as successful as possible.
I know students are feeling anxious. No one wants to perform poorly, whether it be for themselves, their parents or you. And I know that you, too, are feeling anxious. You’re worried about how testing will affect the self-confidence of your students. You’re worried that the pride they’ve felt for knowing they’ve grown academically will go away when they realize the test is still hard compared to their ability and reading level. You’re worried that you didn’t do right by them because you see a poem on the test and you should’ve gone over poetry a little bit more to help them be successful. You worry that really you should’ve assigned more reading homework or should’ve used even more lunch periods to hold math tutorials. You worry that you didn’t do something to set them up for success. My message for you, Teach, is that you’ve been enough. We preach this to our students all year, but you must remember it too. The consistency you’ve provided your students all year, the hugs, the encouragement are all worth much, much more than a score on a test. You’ve held high standards for students despite many of them facing extreme adversity in their lives and have helped them grow from a “Below Basic” reader to damn near “Proficient”. You’ve shown them how to have character and do the right thing even when no one is watching. You’ve modeled for them kindness, empathy, and honesty.
You’ve shown them that they are believed in, loved, trusted, listened to. You’ve shown them that they are important and that their voice matters. And while whatever will be, will be, when it comes to how they perform on their tests, you have done enough and you are enough.
p.s. Want to start a teacher blog like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started and grow your blog!
Update: I originally wrote this post about how I utilize Olympics in the classroom in the spring, but you could totally adapt and do the same thing to celebrate the actual Olympics as they happen in Rio this summer!
So, it’s about that time…state testing time! Whatever your thoughts are on state testing, it happens, and teachers have to make sure their students are prepared. Obviously, teachers prepare their students all year and teach them the standards, but when it comes close to testing time, every teacher I know does some sort of targeted standards remediation work. This is where the most genius and fun of test prep ideas comes in…Olympics!
Disclaimer: I did not come up with test prep Olympics, but I have facilitated it successfully in my classroom and will be doing it again this year. In my opinion, it is a game changer, and a great way to get the most out of your students, in a short period of time, while having some fun!
What It Is
Classroom Olympics is an academic based competition that you can set up in order to track and motivate your students towards a common goal. In the instance of standards remediation, it can help you target instruction while investing the kids in their own “data” and outcomes. How they perform can earn them incentives, and their “country” incentives. If you’ve done an awesome job of investing your kids the entire year in their own data, then the competition of the Olympic events is just an added bonus!
Monday-Thursday the students complete 3 stations each day. On Fridays, the kids participate in “Events” for medals for their country.
I’ve seen teachers group their students in many ways. Each time I have done classroom Olympics I have divided my classes into 6 countries (so 4-5 students in each country). I usually homogeneously group those students (2 high groups, 2 medium groups and 2 “lower” groups). The students have never figured this out, but it helps me be able to differentiate instruction in the stations better.
Obviously, any countries can be chosen, but I always use Spain, Italy, Portugal, France, Brazil and Australia 🙂
For each country, you will want to assign a leader, or “President”/”Prime Minister” or whatever you want to call it! –more on this later!
There are 3 stations in classroom Olympics, usually. Depending on how your class is set up, you can change this, but I’ve always just stuck with the 3.
Coach’s Corner--teacher-led, small group instruction with 2 countries (8-10kids)
Personal Training–partner work with 2 countries (I choose the partners but occasionally let them choose)–8-10 kids
Workout–silent, independent work (8-19 kids)
When I set the classroom up, I turn the desks for each station to face different directions
Coach’s Corner faces the front of the room (desks together in a small cluster for small group)
Personal Training faces the right wall of the room (desks in pairs)
Workout faces the left wall of the room (desks in rows)
View from the front of the room (Coach’s Corner) looking towards the Workout rotation–desks facing left wall
Student view from Workout station (desks in rows, facing expectations posters)
Management To teach my students the expectations for each station, I take an entire day to introduce the concept and to practice meeting the expectations (rotating, getting materials, coming into the classroom and sitting at the correct station, etc). When I first decided on this, I thought that it was a good idea, but was nervous it would be one of those lessons that are over really quickly–but it wasn’t! Practicing entering the classroom, students checking the board for their stations, sitting in their assigned seats and Presidents getting the correct materials proved invaluable. The next day when the students came in, we could get started immediately and I could remind them as the period went on of expectations if needed.
Personal Training Station Expectations Posters Example
Coach’s Corner Station Expectations Posters Example
Workout Station Expectations Poster
(Sorry for the blurry iPhone pic!–will update :))
Students walk into classroom and look at the board to see what station their country is starting at for the day.
All students immediately go to their stations and sit down in their assigned seat.
The country “President” gets the team supply bag (pencils and a sharpener) and goes to their station’s materials bin and gets the materials for their teammates.
Once the Presidents hand out all of the materials and are seated, the timer for rotation 1 begins.
After rotation 1 ends, the students have 1 minute to rotate to the next station, be seated, and get their materials from the President.
Rotation 2 begins and lasts as long as rotation 1.
After rotation 2 ends, the students have 1 minute to rotate to the next station, be seated, and get their materials from the President.
Rotation 3 begins and lasts as long as rotation 1 and 2.
At the end of the class, I sometimes show answers for the students’ to check some of their assignments (depending on what they were doing).
When ready to clean up, all students hand their folders to their President. The Presidents drop their supply bag at the door and stack their folders by the door as they file out.
Incentives As I mentioned above, on Fridays the kids participate in their academic “event”. Based off their scores on the event, they will receive gold or silver medals (not real medals, just the idea of the medal 🙂 ). The medal count will be posted on a medal board for the kids to keep up with and see which country is ahead. Also, the following week after their event, they will receive an incentive (chips, lunch in the classroom with a movie, a jeans pass, etc.–whatever you come up with that motivates them will be great and obviously doesn’t have to cost money!). You can give incentives in a variety of ways: anyone with a gold medal, anyone who got any medal, the countries with the most medals, etc. The possibilities are endless!
At the end of our Olympic Games, we are going to have an awards ceremony for the entire grade to give certificates and overall awards for the Olympics. I’ve never done this part before on a large scale but the kids’ seem really excited about the idea!
Here is our unfinished medal count board. Since the whole 8th grade is competing this year, we have 17 countries across our teams.
Part of our Leaderboard. The top line is number of gold medals and bottom line is number of silver medals.
Tips to Remember
Don’t fall into the “I didn’t get finished” trap. I always give more than students will most likely be able to do at a station (but have a “fast finished assignment ready just in case!), so don’t let kids not being finished let you begin to extend time at the stations. For this version of Olympics to work, each kid needs to get to each station each day!
TEACH EVERYTHING! And by everything I mean: how to push in the chair, how to walk to a new station, how to get supplies, how to ask for help if needed, etc. Even the BEST behaved classrooms can become chaotic when you switch it up. This is definitely the case for (a) middle school classrooms and (b) classrooms that may not be used to working in stations/rotation style frequently. If you don’t teach everything, you will spend your entire time at Coach’s Corner behavior managing kids and fielding questions from confused kids.
Have you and your students ever done an Olympic style competition? What questions do you still have? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or reach out to me via email!
p.s. Want to start a teacher blog just like this one? My friend, Suzi, wrote an ebook that can help you get started!
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