Exams . . . Ready or Not, Here They Come!

If it’s May, it must be exams. Although, let’s face it, there is no such thing as Exam Season anymore. Whether it’s a standardized test required by the Department of Public Instruction, or a mandatory exam needed for college entrance or an exam demanded by a specific curriculum – AP or IB – exams now make up, on average, about 20-25 hours per year according to a 2015 article from the Huffington Post. More specifically, “between pre-K and 12th grade, students took about 112 mandatory standardized exams. The study analyzed the time spent actually taking the tests, but it did not include the hours devoted to preparation ahead of the testing required by the federal government, states or local districts. It also did not include regular day-to-day classroom quizzes and tests in reading, math, science, foreign languages and more” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/standardized-testing-time_us_562e3953e4b0443bb56475b8).

While we can lament this situation, I want to focus on the individuals giving the tests and how we can support them. Teachers offer review packets, organize vocabulary games, create role-playing activities, apply visual cuing opportunities, and much more. Teachers do anything and everything to support students in testing.

But who supports teachers?

As an Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist, the traditional exam week (mid-semester and end-of-year) is a relatively quiet time for me. Teachers are focused on content and giving their students the best tools possible for success. The last thing they want is me saying, “Hey, let’s plan a Socratic Seminar for second hour!” I know to give teachers the space they need.

For Coaches, Mentors, and Implementers, here is my Top 10 List of how to support and assist your colleagues before, during and after exams:


Top 10 List

10) Offer to make copies. It might be a secretarial duty, but it shows your commitment to help. Spending time at the copy machine waiting for hundreds of copies of answer worksheets is a mind-numbing drain. If you notice teachers rushing around making copies, offer to help. It goes a long way in building comradery and showing that we really are in this together.

9) Offer to create review tools for teachers. Recently, I used Jeopardy.Rocks (https://www.jeopardy.rocks/) and My Free Bingo (http://myfreebingocards.com/bingo-card-generator) to create vocabulary activities for our 9th grade English teachers. Teachers, especially novice teachers, might not have time to create entertaining review opportunities. Their goal is content. Give them a chance to focus on content and you schedule the entertainment.

8) Offer to read formative assessments and identify gaps of learning. Ask for the Exit Tickets that teachers have collected and analyze what is missing. As an example, in World History is there a group of students who seem unsure of the differences between socialism and communism? If so, what can be done now to help these students understand the differences? Create a series of thinking questions that will help students review what they need to know.

7) Offer to facilitate small group discussions to review for exams. Grab those students from #8 and schedule a room and a time where you can meet with them to review the material that is unclear. Teachers are already stretched thin meeting with students before school, during lunch, during prep and after school. Taking a small group or two for review will help alleviate the load.

6) Offer to co-teach a class. I co-taught the Jeopardy game in freshmen English last week. The lesson went very well as the teacher and I asked questions, expanded on student answers and reviewed information that will be on the test. As Instructional Coach, I co-teach several lessons per week with teachers in all content areas. However, before exam week, I made a concerted effort to be available specifically for co-teaching.

5) Offer to teach a class. Teaching a class is probably the greatest gift you can give before exams. Time is in short supply and you are creating time. Teachers will not reach out to you for this request. They will probably feel guilty just thinking about it. Mention it in the staff lounge;

bring it up at the PLC. Tell them you’re serious and you want to help. Once they get over the initial awkwardness of admitting they need assistance, you will get takers on your offer.

4) Bring in a (homemade) treat on the first day of exams and the last day of exams. Don’t feel you need to purchase a platter of French pastries. A box of brownies, a container of cookies or a dish of doughnuts will cause most teachers to tear up. Teachers are an appreciative group; especially when the appreciation is heartfelt. Homemade makes it that much more personal.

3) Be available to listen. Something will go wrong. The answer key will have a wrong answer. The points won’t add up and the grades will have to be recalculated. The internet will be slow and the grades can’t be entered. The grades are entered, but wiped out mysteriously. Someone will pull the fire alarm. Your job will be to listen. What can you do or what will you say to give the teacher a reason to come back tomorrow?

2) Offer to grade. The exam is written. Students have taken it. The fun part is just beginning-150 exams are waiting for grading. You can grade multiple choice, true/false and depending upon your background, specific content area questions. As a certified English teacher, I could grade essays with some authority. Even grading a part of an exam will be of tremendous benefit to the teacher.

And the number one way in which to support teachers during exam week, is:

1) Before you leave school today, let teachers know you are available to give them a break during exams. It might be a bathroom break, a walk-around-the-building break, or a chance to go outside for five minutes. Whatever it is, you’ll be wherever they want you to be doing whatever it is they want you to do. By working together, our students get the best possible experience and situation in which to be successful.