Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dealing with Test Stress

So, we are back from vacation and the week has started much the same as every week in this house since Christmas break; one of the kids has a fever and one seems like he is on his way to getting sick, yet again. And it seems like after talking with parent friends this week and seeing many facebook updates lots of you folks are tired of winter and frankly are just having the blues.

Well, here is some sunshine ...I have been made an ambassador for the show The View! Every week for the next 3 weeks I will give a preview of the shows' daily guests, surprise updates and even respond to some discussions that take place on the show! Today on the The View, Thursday, February 26th an entire hour show based around the topic "Trying to have a baby?" I had a very easy time conceiving my first child but had a tough time conceiving my second. It seems to happen to a lot of couples. Whether you are trying for your first or your 5th, they will provide lots of helpful information, so tune in!

On to the question of the week: "My child is in third grade and she is already stressed for the State Tests that take place in April. What techniques can I use to help her deal with her stress?"

Aaaaah, State Tests. It's not that I don't believe in testing or even that I think the tests are completely unfair but the emphasis put on these tests and the fact that in many cases it is the only determination in a child's higher education, has truly turned them into the evil beast of education and has destroyed the joy of learning. Obama says "change" is on the way regarding the assessment of children, so lets keep our fingers crossed.

Until change comes, I think that it is great that you are looking to find ways to help your daughter with her stress. Stress can be brought on by many reasons and it is important that we teach our children coping mechanisms to get them through the tough times, whether it is for tests or for other reasons.

I have found that what works for one student may not work for another so it is important for parents to try different coping skills , especially as children grow and the tests become more frequent and more difficult.

First and foremost is to make sure your child is prepared. If they struggle in a certain subject make sure you discuss with the teacher how they have been doing on assessments in class and if they feel there is a need for extra help. A child will always feel less nervous if they feel prepared. If need be, splurge on a tutor with good references.

Practice breathing techniques (yoga breathing is great!) This is important throughout the test taking experience. Children often break down in the middle of tests because they feel overwhelmed. Constant and systematic breathing can keep a child's stamina up and help keep them calm and focused.

Keep a chart or list that describes what they know and how they are prepared for the test. For example for a literacy test a child might write - "I know what character traits are", "I know what a plot is", "I know what details are", etc.

On most tests I recommend that children look at the questions first. This way they know exactly what they should be looking for in the passages that they read. In math, students should always scan the answers first.

Children should have a plan for when they are confused during an exam or don't know an answer . Take a deep breath, close their eyes, count to ten, raise their hand for help, wait for the proctor to come over, guess if they really do not know an answer, etc.

Parents need to encourage their kids to do their best and not make threatening remarks in the case that they do not do well. One student I know, began to cry during her exam because her mother told her if she did not "do well" there would be no space for her in a top middle school and they would have to move.

Some other stress reliever tips when studying or preparing for exam:

Taking a break to blow bubbles

Chew gum

Kneading Play-Doh or putty

Getting involved in a yoga, Tai chi or any martial arts on a regular basis

“I am a participant in a Mom Central campaign for ABC Daytime and will receive a tote bag or other The View branded items to facilitate my review.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Diary of an Unstructured Staycation

Okay, on a staycation with the kids and my hubby. I'm feeling a bit unmotivated and if your kids are home with you, I can't imagine you're doing much blog reading so this post will be a shorty! I'm also exhausted from staying up and watching the Olympics. My friend recently posted on facebook that she does not know why she cries during the Olympics, " I know them or something..." I was happy to see that my response was not the only one admitting that the Olympics are like one giant Hallmark Card commercial! Check out last weeks post about how you can introduce math, culture, geography, sportsmanship and the dedication of the human spirit all through the Olympics!

In any case, I was hoping to jam pack it with cultural events while I had my husband around but it seems we have done a lot less than I had hoped. Not only are their fewer free choices (the economy plays a part in this!) and it seems like low key agrees with everyone so I'm going with it. Here's a list of things we have done and while they may not seem like much perhaps one activity will be new to you and might help you to fill up the week for you and your kids:

-A Family Film program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (one film short was Jackson Pollack demonstrating his technique). My 7 year old really liked it. I told him when the weather gets warmer we could try out his Pollack style OUTSIDE, in the park. I'll let you know how that goes!

-A Start with Art program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

-The Museum of Natural History

-Rearranged the kids room (yes, all three kids aged 7,4 and 1 share a room!)

-A sleep over with a cousin

-Opened up a tent (IKEA) and the kids camped out in the tiny living room

-Garden State Plaza on Rte. 4 in NJ (the Lego Store was a hit!)

-Dinner with friends who live in a house and who have a playroom (any apartment kid's dream!)

-Stopped in our local NY Public Library and picked up a new reading series (I gently encouraged it and also let each child choose a movie)

-Emptied our piggy banks and counted away. We put aside some for charity and virtually shopped on Amazon for items the kids would like to save.

-Going to the Diamond District to trade in some unwanted gold for cash! (A walk on 5th Avenue to follow!)

-Friday, road trip to Albany and joining our friend, the coordinator of Art Night Schenectady

So there you have it. Enjoy your vacation and feel free to share your ideas and thoughts about what to do when you are feeling unmotivated on your staycations!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Secrets, Lies and Kindergarten Admissions

If you have not read the The New York Magazine article, "The Junior Meritocracy.....Why Kindergarten Admissions Tests Are Worthless" you should. It's a long one so do it after the kids are asleep. The article sheds light on the instability of IQ tests that are given to children at the age of 4 years to determine how "gifted" they are. As well, the article touches on how the validity of these tests are being threatened by some desperate low-life tactics parents and educational tutoring services have turned to; not only buying the coveted IQ exams but selling them on websites as though they were state secrets.

My thoughts:

I agree with what much of the article depicts but I think there are some major questions and solutions that are overlooked:

1. Why were many public school Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs developed? Many of them were created to entice middle and upper income families to send their children to public schools. Until the NYCDOE decided to use the OLSAT as the standardized test for entrance into G&T programs (about 3 years ago) admission exams were described as an "arbitrary hodge podge" means of assessing children across the city. That leads me to ask if the programs were truly gifted programs to begin with? Were these students truly gifted or did they mostly come from "nice" neighborhood families paired with an average curriculum? And what about all the children that were tested and qualified for the gifted programs but ended going to regular programs because there was no space for them? How are they coping? This is not to say that some children are not truly gifted and that some programs are not valid but how are we assessing these kids and what really qualifies as a "gifted"program"?

2. I met a parent last year whose 2nd grade child had come from a private school that required an IQ exam for entrance into the school. Because of financial reasons the child was now attending a local non-gifted public school. At the first publishing party the mother became quickly embarrassed that her daughter's work was clearly far behind her classmates. By the first report card she had received notice that her daughter's promotion was in doubt. The child was put into the public school's extended day program and the mother hired a tutor. While the child's intelligence is truly not the question, the gap in knowledge and skill clearly impacted the child's academic achievement. What role does moving from one set of standards and a difference in educational philosophy play?

3. The article quotes an individual stating that "50 to 60 percent of the test is teachable." While this may be true, is any one else concerned that a major factor in intelligence is actually processing and synthesizing new information and material? Are parents that coach their kids not fearful that once their child gets into a gifted program, they won't be able to handle the workload?

4. As an educator, I had a vision for myself, my students and my classroom. While the dreams should guide us, more often then not our educational dreams get sidetracked by the harsh reality that is dictated by our students' needs, the parents, administrators, state and city mandates and time constraints. One private school administrator was quoted as saying that he wanted "...a class full of daydreamers", and "wanting kids who don't want to answer the questions on those tests in the way the adults want them to be answered, because that kid is already seeing
the world differently". While a bit idealistic, this attitude may unfortunately lead kids to be
classified as weird, or as having focusing issues or having a learning delay. Hey, it sounds nice
and liberating in a magazine article.

5. Finally, I think a major solution to this G&T craze in New York City is to, I don't know, have enough strong, well run, differentiated, neighborhood schools that are in a child's catchment so they don't have be tested for G&T programs or put in a lottery just to make it into kindergarten. How about sinking your money into that Department of Education!?!

Would love to hear your thoughts!