International Festival of Attention-Grabbers – Ohio (US)

Hi and welcome back to Attentionology for K – 5 Teachers!

As March draws near, schools in many parts of the world are preparing for testing time. The word itself – test – is enough to send some kids into a “tizzy.”

Kids aren’t alone in their fears, asserts Scott Bitner, M.ED, shown in my blog pic below.

Scott Bitner, M.ED, sporting a favorite hat

Scott Bitner, M.ED, sporting a favorite hat

Scott’s research and experience as a Tutor and Consultant with Learning Solutions suggests that the foundation of test anxiety is in adults, not children.

What’s the attentionology connection?

Teachers can use strategies that, in Scott’s words, “remove the threat of testing,” and improve the likelihood of positive outcomes for students, teachers, schools and communities.

Scott stresses the importance of helping students:

  • increase mindfulness
  • focus on their strengths
  • block out “noise” when they’re preparing for and taking tests

Speaking of “noise,” Scott has “a bone to pick” with the Common Core Curriculum that’s been adopted by most states in the US. “Before Common Core,” says Scott, “I believe that we had a really good model for teaching science, as an example. We used a curriculum that built a ‘scaffolding’ for learning, beginning with general studies in elementary school.”

Where’s the Scaffolding for Learning Now? – Scott, shown doing

Scott Bitner following up on research related to preventing test anxiety in kids

Scott Bitner following up on research related to preventing test anxiety in kids

research in my blog pic here, has served as a Science Specialist in Middle School; worked with K – 5 groups, and with “at-risk” students.

In his estimation, the Common Core Curriculum “has unfortunately forced teachers to introduce more sophisticated concepts at an earlier age, before the ‘scaffolding’ is there. Students are becoming overwhelmed. Overwhelmed kids tend to get anxious.”

Is Test Anxiety Increasing with Your  Classes? – Have you noticed, like Scott has, that more and more students seem anxious and that test anxiety is increasing in school?

“Sometimes the result is that kids tune out,” Scott observes. “I think that some kids take what I call ‘commercial breaks’ in the middle of class. They’re thinking, ‘I don’t understand what the teacher is saying, so why should I bother trying?'” Teachers need tools and tricks to keep kids on task…

Colorful STICKY NOTES are multi-functional!

Allow elementary school students to borrow sticky note test helpers as needed.

…attention-getting tools and tricks, like posting Sticky Note Test Helpers (shown in my blog pic here).

Write a few words of encouragement on sticky notes and post them on a bulletin board for students to borrow as needed.

You might help alleviate children’s anxiety.

Enormous Learning Expectations – 

In Scott’s thinking, learning expectations have increased exponentially outside of school, as well as inside the classroom.

He expresses his concern this way: “Look what we’ve done to kids in the last twenty years, in the US at least. In our drive for them to have a better life than our own (and to stay competitive in the world economy when they grow up – my words) we pile on the activities. There seems to be a perception that if kids aren’t involved in a huge number of after- school activities, they’ll fall behind. I’d like to get back to letting kids be kids.”

When Scott was a kid himself, his home was Munroe Falls, Ohio (US), a suburb of Akron. Scott attended Old Trail School in grades 2 – 5. “It was a private country day school built along tow paths that mules walked, back during the construction of the Erie Canal.” Scott’s dad was a Science and Geography teacher in the middle grades; hence Scott’s attendance at Old Trail School (and his path into teaching – like father, like son.)

Attentionology Masters – What teacher got Scott’s attention? “All of my teachers were good,” Scott says quickly, “but Ms. Schell, one of my third grade team teachers, really stands out in my mind.” Ms. Schell was a math and reading specialist – an interesting combination by today’s standards. According to Scott, “She made it clear to me and my parents that I was there to learn.”

Scott admits to being “a bit on the lazy side” as a kid. “Ms. Schell had a disciplinary approach like a favorite grandma,” he recalls. “She was someone I always felt I could go to because she was never angry but she did express sorrow at some of my behavior.”

Scott elaborates on Ms. Schell’s management style: “She’d say that she really hated to have to fail me, but that I needed to learn my lesson.” After one failed grading period and a series of parent teachers conferences, Scott puts it this way, “Let’s just say that failing didn’t happen again.” Ms. Schell got Scott’s attention and helped set him straight, he recalls, by being kind but firm. “She was no-nonsense, but very approachable.”

Fast- forward to elementary education in 2013; Scott believes that “we can have instructional rigor without conveying to kids that they have to pass the test or be forever doomed.”

Scott’s work with students and other teachers has strengthened his position that the educational community should, in his words, “let teachers teach in a more relaxed manner.” He asserts that teachers and students (in the US) today suffer from “an ever-increasing volume of mandatory objectives, scripting, and unrealistic timetables.”

“Kid are NOT widgets; teachers are NOT factory hands; schools are NOT manufacturing facilities,” says Scott emphatically.

Strategies for Success – With Scott’s strong background in science, he recognizes the benefits of evaluation. In his consulting work, Scott’s quick to say that strategies for preventing test anxiety need to be based on individual teachers and classes. “No one formula offers a fix for low test scores,” he says, but Scott always recommends re-evaluation of:

1) the curriculum, instruction and materials – what we teach and how

2) the make up of students in a class

3) the interactions of students with the teacher and each other

One teaching and test-preparation strategy that Scott’s seen work well is peer learning and review. “Teachers know which kids are grasping concepts, and it’s helpful to mix kids with different strengths into groups that enable all students to benefit from peer learning and review,” he asserts.

Scott recommends another effective test-preparation strategy that many teachers may already follow: do a formative assessment in a format and writing style that’s similar to the actual upcoming test. “Practice testing is helpful,” he suggests. Do you agree?

Addressing test anxiety is extremely important,” says Scott. “We’re working with the first generation in the US of K – 12 students that have never known anything but standardized testing. Okay, all teaching is preparation for a test in a way” (as in the ‘tests of life’), “but there’s a limit to how much of a load we can all carry.”

About his criticisms of the Common Core Curriculum? As Scott – ever the science teacher – says, “If we don’t rock the boat, we won’t know where the instability lies.” You can follow more of Scott’s thinking on his blog at themiddleground.blogspot.com

Talk with you again soon,

Barbara The Lovable Poet

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