It’s standardized testing season. Unlike Mother Nature’s seasons, this season is not looked forward to, especially by educators. You can turn to just about any Facebook page, Twitter feed, or blog of an educator and find some negative comment about these high stakes tests. Many are even going to their legislatures and those in charge to share their concerns and frustrations. But I’m not here to write about all the things we dislike about standardized testing.
Instead, I’m writing about how we can help our students decompress from the intense, often very left-brained, thinking that comes from the hours of standardized testing in the classroom. Though we may not like these tests, we know they are going to happen for now. So, I’d like to share with you some activities that will engage the right-brained thinking as well as engaging students in kinesthetic and emotional de-stressors. These can be used after the test is over or during a short breaks that you might provide for your students.
- Daydream: As your students finish their test or take their break, hand them a slip of paper that allows them to just dream. You could give them a prompt such as, “Imagine that you are a superhero or unique animal.” or simply state, “Now is your time to dream.” Let your students minds drift to something of delight for themselves.
- Walk or skip around: Our brains need oxygen to think and when we walk or skip around, it forces us to increase our oxygen intake. The Director of Human Cognitive Neuroscience, Andrew Scholey, at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, England states that a dose of oxygen or glucose can improve performance on tasks that require great mental effort,” In addition, exercise prompts the brain to create endorphins and these endorphins are natural mood enhancing hormones. (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/studies-show-glucose-oxygen-brain/story?id=117530)
- Have a snack: First of all, know your students’ allergens and never offer food without consenting parents. That being said, berries and oranges are full of vitamin C and can help to reduce stress. Walnuts have been found to keep stress hormones in check. Other ideas might be cheese sticks, celery, peanut butter, pretzels, or other nuts.
- Eat Chocolate: Studies have shown that eating chocolate, especially dark chocolate, reduces stress hormones. The glucose may aid in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical known to raise a person’s emotional state.
- Draw: Drawing engages many parts of the right side of your brain. It also helps to take your mind off the things that might be increasing your logical thinking. When you are drawing you’re focused on the project in front of you and not on the hard work or problem solving. Art increases relaxation, enjoyment, and positive thoughts. To engage my students in this I’ve created a set of doodle and, what I call, creativity collage pages. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Creative-Thinking-Engagment-Pages-1788366
- Chat about anything but the test: During these standardized tests, our students are not allowed to talk. They sit for hours in silence expect to perhaps say, “I’m done.” Or “Can I go to the bathroom?” When your students are on a break or the whole class is finished, let them chat. But there should be one rule: No talking about the test. Not only is that a rule of these secure tests, but getting your students to talk about anything else is better for their break from the intense thinking involved throughout the testing period.
- Deep breathing exercises: You’ve probably heard this one a lot. In fact, you might just be one who uses this regularly. But it bodes well to include it here because it is so beneficial and regularly agreed upon as a stress reducer. (See notes above about getting oxygen to the brain.)
- Watch a funny movie: I know this one won’t work in many classrooms as there are regulations about movies in the classroom, but try watching a funny clip or short movie. I’ve included some funny snippets here but I’m sure you have some favorites of your own that would be appropriate for your classroom.: http://boredshorts.tv/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N_tupPBtWQ (Mahna Mahna); http://www.wimp.com/funny/needwater/ ;http://www.wimp.com/funny/mariojumping/
- Play a game: There are so many great games out there. A quick game of tic-tac-toe, to good ol’ Heads Up 7 Up, or other games you play with your students can definitely break up the intensity of testing days.
- Dance: Dance has been proven to be a great energizer and re-newer of spirits. Not to mention how the kids love to laugh at our crazy “teacher moves”. Many of my colleagues are using www.gonoodle.com for some terrific brain breaks. The kids have a lot of fun.
- Play: Get out the Playdoh™, Legos ™, or bubbles. I wouldn’t use these until all the class is finished, as I don’t want kids to finish early just so that they can play with the cool stuff on the table, but what a great way to end the day.
For many of us, the standardized tests are here and we have to get our students through them. There will be a lot of left-brain thinking, problem solving, text synthesizing, and the increased depth of knowledge questions being answered. Some students (and teachers) will take it in stride and others will stress. Let’s give our classrooms something positive to take away from the testing season. Maybe the season won’t be as obnoxious as its reputation.