Whenever I ask elementary school students to tell me what they really think about standardized tests and to tell me what they think will happen if they don't do well on the test, their responses are so shocking that I often have a hard time figuring out which misconceptions to address first. Kids tell me that if they fail the test, their school will be shut down, their teachers will be fired, and it will go on their permanent record. No matter how much I try to correct these misconceptions, my voice is no match for the constant misinformation being fed to children, especially third-graders taking the high-stakes tests for the first time.
I decided to create a short video that corrected several misconceptions about standardized tests, taking the theme of "This Test Does Not Define You." The script for the video, written as a poem, originally hit me like a pile of bricks a few months ago. It practically wrote itself. It was originally a 10-minute slam poem that I revised and edited down to about 6 minutes. I used a variety of software and video editing applications to bring the words to life on a very low budget since I used personal funds to make it.
The video does not take a stance either for or against testing. Instead, it simply aims to remind students that as much as they need to pour their hearts into these tests and do their best, the tests don't define who they are. Taking a page from my own personal struggles with standardized testing in the fourth grade, I remind students that one's test scores don't stay with them for life, despite what some teachers and administrators threaten about permanent records. I also describe a simple writing exercise that kids can do to reduce test anxiety. The activity is research-based and more information can be found in this earlier blog post.
It was my hope to release this video in April, but I kept doing minor tweaks to it and it was delayed. If the test has already been administered in your school or district, I believe the video is still very relevant because kids still have some very real fears about testing and the message is one they need to carry with them throughout their schooling. It is important to break the video down at times and discuss the lessons (after playing it through once uninterrupted). For this reason, I have included captions. The video can be viewed at 1080p HD in full screen, looks great on a projector, and is completely ad-free so you don't get annoying car commercials popping up all over your screen when showing the video to young children.
I really hope you enjoy it, and if you have any thoughts or have used it in your classrooms or with your own children, please take a moment to comment on it, either here or under the YouTube video itself. Please click the thumbs up on the video if you enjoy it and share it widely.
Kumar R. Sathy
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Monday, April 1, 2013
|Bullying isn't just the stereotypical lunch money theft.|
Over 13 million kids will be bullied this year. With our culture's overemphasis on positive thinking (ie., "Don't worry, it'll get better,") and such notions as "boys will be boys," or "the kids will work it out on their own," many students don't feel like the adults in their lives are able to stand up for them. Bullying has prevented millions of kids from feeling safe at school and in too many cases, it has ended lives. A variety of parental and nonprofit groups have brought the issue of bullying to center stage, but one governmental initiative stands out as an overlooked and underrated resource for addressing the issue.
StopBullying.gov is a website so full of tips, resources, graphics, and videos that it would take hours, perhaps days, to get through all of it. The site is also available in Spanish and it stands out as an engaging resource with research-based suggestions for kids, parents, and teachers.
This isn't just a site that dishes out common sense advice or tells kids to ignore the problem.
For Teachers & Parents
The links and sections for teachers and parents have tons of tips and suggestions for dealing with bullying, including:
Common mistakes adults make in response to bullying
Tips to help kids be more than bystanders when bullying occurs
Risk factors, warning signs, effects of bullying, and considerations for special groups
Not a teacher, parent, or student? There are suggestions for community members, too, including a section on how all of us can facilitate conversations about bullying.
The site's kids section has facts, videos, games, and addresses what kids can do about bullying.
Aimed at elementary school students, the kid videos are mini webisodes with comprehension questions about bullying. The videos are short and engaging. I was surprised to see that they didn't take a lecturing or condescending tone. They also don't suggest dealing with a serious issue by just looking on the bright side or telling kids they are special or that it will all get better with time. They offer real suggestions and focus on empathy, not just telling kids that bullying is bad.
Turning it into a Reading Activity:
* Click here to watch one of the videos (I suggest watching it alone first, to get a sense of when to pause and what to discuss with students)
* Hit the CC button (on the bottom of the video frame, toward the center) to turn on the captions
* Click the [ ] symbol on the bottom (far right) of the video frame to make it full screen
* The first time you watch it with students, turn off the volume so that kids are reading, not just watching.
* Then watch again with the captions and audio on
* If students are okay with it, watch it one more time, this time without the audio (but leave captions on)
* Work on the comprehension questions together. As I've mentioned before, doing reading comprehension activities using videos is a great way to level the playing field and make a reading activity meaningful and engaging. Doing comprehension questions away from books is a great way to assess understanding without damaging a child's love for reading.
Kumar R. Sathy is the author of the award-winning Chicken Nugget Man Series of Educational Children's Fiction books and blogger for BeyondTestPrep.com, a nonprofit resource with tips, strategies, and resources for making learning fun. Feel free to comment on this article below and follow @KumarSathy on twitter to read more tips from the author or to ask questions about elementary instruction.
Posted by Kumar R. Sathy at 5:04 PM
Short on time? Click here to read a 30-second version of this article.
You don’t have to be a certified educator to help your child read like a rock star. In fact, it’s easier to pull it off if you aren’t an educator. Why? Because the primary method teachers use for boosting comprehension creates a stressful, evaluative reading environment for children. We’re all familiar with those boring reading comprehension passages followed up by equally boring multiple-choice questions. Multiple-choice tests are stressful, and for struggling readers, reading itself is stressful enough. There is, however, a way to help your child relax, read, and actually comprehend what is being read at home, and it doesn’t involve tests at all.
Parents who come to me feeling intimidated and daunted by the task of helping their children with reading comprehension often walk away feeling a great sense of relief by the time I’m done talking. Why? Because I suggest a shockingly simple initial starting point for parents:
If you just read with your child and have normal conversations from time to time, without ever interrupting or interfering with the natural reading process, and without asking question after question, both you and your child will realize how easy, rewarding, and beneficial this process actually is.
Here are some basic steps to make that happen:
Empathize with your child’s struggle while providing some basic guidance before opening the book.
Reading isn’t easy. Even adults find themselves “reading,” with eyes following along the lines of text, flipping page after page while the minutes pass, only to realize they have no idea what happened on the pages they were supposedly reading. I call this the passive eye shift. Our fingers and eyes are moving, but either our brains are off in La La Land or we are too busy visualizing something we read earlier in the book to actually focus on the text we’re trying to read at the moment. It may have even happened to you just now while reading this article. This is completely normal. Everyone experiences it. I’m a voracious reader and I do it every time I read, whether I’m reading a hilarious work or fiction or an article on cognitive neuroscience. I want you to talk about these little blips with your children. I want you to let them know that not only do lots of kids experience these struggles when reading, but adults do as well.
Your child doesn’t need to feel like a failure, but chances are, if he or she is failing those reading comprehension questions from boring passages at school, that ship has already sailed. You can reverse course by empathizing with your child’s struggle, and providing some guidance before you open the book in the first place:
Implement a hands-off plan of action for dealing with challenging words.
There’s no point constantly correcting a child or explaining things while he or she is reading. It is extremely distracting. Adults don’t like to be interrupted while reading, so what makes us think kids are cool with it? And we wonder why kids can’t answer comprehension questions after we’ve interrupted them 386 times while reading the passage in the first place.
Start by making sure your child plays a major role in choosing an engaging book to read with you. If your child thinks the book is too challenging or boring, don’t argue about it; just let him or her choose a new book. Then, let your child know that when encountering a really tough word, he or she should just say “blank” instead of trying to say the tricky word, and you’ll deal with the pronunciation and definition together later. Once the child has finished the chapter or is at a good stopping point in the story, you two can start sounding out the word and using context clues or the dictionary or internet to figure out its meaning.
Let your child know that it impresses you when he or she voluntarily rereads a particular section. There are plenty of times when kids (and adults) need to reread a sentence, paragraph, or in my case, an entire chapter, if we engage in the passive eye shift or the section is boring or challenging. A tremendous amount of our comprehension comes not from our initial reading of a passage, but from the times we have to reread sections that we believed were important but that we didn’t quite focus on hard enough. Teachers often have to force kids to reread; kids tend not to do it voluntarily. If you let your child know that voluntary rereading impresses you and you express joy when they do so, you’ll see wild growth in their comprehension skills. The fact is that kids want to impress the adults in their lives. It is just downright unfair that the primary way kids think they can impress adults is through great performance on tests. Make it easier for your child to impress you. Show your excitement during little victories (like small improvements, a smoothly-read sentence, or voluntary rereading), but don’t go overboard. Compliments should be just enough to reinforce the action to the child, but not so much that the child thinks the only reason to perform the action is for the reward or parental excitement that follows.
We live in a society that is so obsessed with standardized testing that many of our basic instructional practices (like those boring reading comprehension passages) end up being nothing more than glorified tests. Struggling readers don’t need more tests. They need instruction, empathy, and engaging reading materials. Rather than battling with your child’s teacher to embrace this view, you can balance out the evaluation and testing overload your child experiences at school with a safe, assessment-free reading environment at home. The laid-back, hands-off, empathetic approach in this article will ensure that your child starts to feel some success with reading, a fundamental step in boosting comprehension and nurturing great readers.
Posted by Kumar R. Sathy at 5:01 PM