Monday, May 19, 2008

Differientation in Test Prep

It's state standardized test time at my school. It's kicks off tomorrow and will run for at least the next three weeks. Longer if we have a lot of make ups. As you can imagine, that means the past week, few weeks, month, whatever have been test prep time.

I refuse to do a lot of prep. Either I've taught these students well and prepared them as we've gone along, or it's too late to worry over it now. However, tests are their own genre of text and students need to know how to approach them. So, I've spent a bit of time working with them in the last week.

Tomorrow we take the math test, so that has been our focus. We've explored it by strand. For example, one day we looked at released questions from last year in the measurement and geometry section. I put each question up on the smartboard with the answers covered. I don't want their attention to be on which answer is correct. We sorted those twelve questions in a couple of different ways. First we determined if each question was focused on measurement or geometry. Then we tried to analyze it a bit more deeply. We found some area and perimeter questions, some questions about two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes. We found a couple of questions that could need protractors. I just wanted the students to see the different sort of topics they would find on the test and recognize how much they already know about those topics.

After we did this as a class I gave them each a copy of those questions. I asked them to look over them (they didn't need to answer them but they could if they wanted to) and mark three or more questions they thought were a bit challenging for them and three or more questions they found to be really easy.

The next day I pulled small groups based on who found each question challenging and we brainstormed strategies for answering that sort of question. Sometimes I pulled the entire class because they all seemed to feel somewhat uncomfortable with the question, but that was rare. Typically I would have three or four students looking at a question. Some concepts (especially fractions and decimals) give more kids trouble and I might have nine or ten gathered to talk about it. Today I made sure there was a little bit of time for students to bring any final concerns to me after we had discussed the final bits. I had four students with some different areas in which they still did not feel completely confident.

This way our test prep is differentiated. When they weren't meeting in small groups with me they were playing math games. Some kids would come up for questions they didn't mark as challenging because they just wanted to double check their thinking. I don't think I overloaded them or made them more stressed about the test. Hopefully, our time on this increased their confidence and answered some last minute questions they may not even have realized they had.

I don't expect them all to earn perfect scores on tomorrow's test. I do expect that they walk in feeling comfortable with the questions they will see and feeling capable of doing their best. What more could I possibly ask?