Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What's Your Hook for Making Standardized Test Prep More Fun?

My Facebook status for today was, "The UN has declared March 20, 2013 to be the first International Day of Happiness. Do something to make yourself smile today!" I decided to take my own advice and spend some time doing something that puts a smile on my face. 

For reasons I don't have time to analyze, blogging makes me happy. Since it's the FIRST official International Day of Happiness, I figured I might as well go all out and compound my happiness by blogging about a topic that delights me. Harry Potter has been a source of pleasure for my family for a very long time. That's why I am so thrilled about the Hogwarts-themed incentive I started in my class this week.

First of all, I want to acknowledge Mrs. S. over at All Things Upper Elementary. Mrs. S. recently posted an inspiring blog entitled "Standardized Test Prep: Where's the Hook?" In her post, Mrs. S. explained how she is using Pirate, the test prep mascot, and all sorts of other cool strategies to keep standardized test prep "fun" for her students.

The ideas over at All Things Elementary were so creative and motivating that I felt compelled to come up with a test prep hook of my own. I had been tossing the idea around in my mind for a couple days, when I decided to clean out an area of my basement to make room for an exercise space. Saraswati, the goddess of learning, must have been smiling down on me while I was reorganizing, because I came across the box my daughter's collection of Harry Potter books was delivered in, and a lightbulb went off in my head.

Before I knew it, I had a cool nightlight that resembled Professor Trelawney's crystal ball, an old wooden rod that looked a lot like a wand, a gilded plastic cup from the top of one of my son's trophies that I knew would serve nicely as a Triwizard Cup, and a plan for resurrecting the "house points" jars I had used in class a couple of years ago for behavior management.

When I brought all my loot to school, I had to rearrange the students' desks into four tables representing the four houses of Hogwarts and I needed to make new house jars to replace the ones I could not find anywhere in my classroom, but it was all worth it.

The kids had so much fun using the Sorting Hat (an old sombrero I found in the closet) to find out which Hogwarts House their table would be, and they can't wait for the Triwizard Tournament (think a small Harry Potter-themed field day) we are going to have if we can fill the Triwizard Cup (broken trophy) with the house points (marbles) the kids are going to earn for applying the test-taking strategies we've been learning all year during our final weeks of test prep.

It was awesome to hear my students cheering, instead of groaning, when I asked them to take out their test prep homework today. They were eager to earn points for their house in hopes of winning a small treat at the end of the day, and they were super excited when I dumped the marbles from all four houses into the Triwizard Cup, and they saw we were officially on our way to earning the Room 202 Triwizard Tournament.

Mrs. S. was absolutely correct when she wrote, "You can teach and practice the most intense skills, and if kids believe they are having fun, they will focus, pay attention, and learn." I saw more highlighting and citing of evidence while I walked around the room today than I ever have in the past, and children who usually avoid making eye contact with me during test prep were waving their hands emphatically to get me to call on them today.

I couldn't be happier about my decision to come up with a test prep hook for my class. I hope I can convince ALL of my students that they really do have the necessary "MAGIC" in them to score proficient or advanced on our state tests.


  1. How fun! Thanks for the inspiration. I'd love it if youd link this up with my Spring Fever Linky. Just the kind of inspiration everyone needs.

    Surfing to Success

  2. Brilliant! I love making my kids feel like they've got everything under control. They (and ME) get bummed out by test prep, but it can definitely be done in a fun way!

  3. Now that is a FUN way to approach testing!!! :)