May 5, 2011
Not long after I wrote about my hopes for my students to feel confident and well-prepared for this week’s New York State English Language Arts exam, I went to bed and immediately began my own battle with test anxiety. As soon as my head hit the pillow my mind started racing with recollections of past ELA exams.
What I remembered was the overwhelming feeling of helplessness, while walking around and watching certain students struggle. I remembered that quiet voice screaming inside my head, “No! No! Go back and re-read! The answer’s right there!” Or, “Please don’t change your answer. Please don’t change your answer.” Or, “Why aren’t you using the strategies we practiced?!”
But ultimately my anxiety and sleeplessness was unimportant yesterday as my students entered the classroom. Finding a way to alleviate their test anxiety was my only goal. Still, as we went through a number of my test day rituals, I couldn’t help fight the nagging question, was it all a waste of time?
The students started the day with a few Ritz crackers and juice. This start was less about alleviating test anxiety, and more to make sure all my students had food in their stomachs.
After that, I tried a basic priming exercise. My students wrote the name of their favorite superhero and a word to describe that superhero. One of my favorites: Night Hawk and “100% Awesome.” Then they wrote the name of their favorite author and a word to describe him or her. Since we’ve been reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” most students chose Roald Dahl. Finally, I had my students write one thing they’re really good at.
With the priming done, it was time for one last gimmick/support. My students and I did 26 jumping jacks to get their heart rates up and blood flowing. Then a quick yoga pose (pretty much the only one I know) to relax. There are plenty of studies connecting exercise to good test scores, and some research even suggests that a little exercise right before a test can boost scores.
So, did these tricks do the trick? It’s hard to tell. But when it comes to making sure my students’ performance is a result of their best work and not test anxiety I’m willing to try pretty much anything.