Speaking of immovable objects

Here’s an open ended question for your classroom or next staff meeting.

Q: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

I love asking questions like this. They tend to force people to engage a different set of neurons to come up with the answer(s). Usually, the room gets quiet at first, but then what follows can be quite rich and edifying.

Did images of the universe collapsing upon itself come to mind? Were Neutrinos, light energy, and dark matter dancing destructively in your mind? Nice, but this is not a Science blog. I predict nothing happens. This seems to be the most simple answer I can conjure. Especially, when neither entity can be stopped or moved. Let the exchange of ideas begin. This is what I strive to achieve in my classroom.

Lately, something has interrupted our flow. Again.

Fill in the blank.

It’s the most __________________ time of the year.

a) Wonderful (b) Hectic (c) Incredible (d) Stressful (e) All of the above

Here’s a snapshot from last week in my own incredibly hectic and quasi-stressed out classroom.
Tuesday: Students come to school under a cloud of distraction and worry over the provincial government’s mandatory standardized test EQAO. So I prescribed a Math test to get their minds off of the days ahead.

Wednesday to Friday: EQAO testing delivered over 3 days in 6 x 100 minute periods. Followed by a decision to provide 100 minutes of movement time each of those afternoons. After sitting at their desks writing assessments, which are as long as some high school tests, my grade 6 students earned the right to move around. So to the gym and outdoors we fled. Unless Participaction and Ophea are lying to us, an active body leads to a healthy mind and the two are inextricably connected because they add up to happy learners.


Movers and groovers

If we are truly differentiating education to support all learners in Ontario, then why is the standardized assessment basically a read and respond test? How are the needs of all learners honoured here? When will kinesthetic, musical, visual/spatial, and inter-personal learners get their rightful moments to shine? And then there are the students who suffer from anxiety regardless of their incredible skills.

Anxiety is one thing parents and schools do not need to teach students.

Q: Why do so many students come to school worried about this test?
A: They’ve learnt it at home, and then they’re learning it in school.

This revelation comes from an informal poll taken over 8 years of teaching students in grade 6, many, who feel their families put pressure on them over EQAO, and also that the school intentionally or inadvertently perpetuates in the classroom in Grades 3 and 6 does the same.

Despite repeated assurances that EQAO is a meaningless test, with regards to their report cards and chances of getting into university, students and their families are still laying a lot of emotional eggs into this basket. For whose benefit, then, do tests like these really serve? In my neighbourhood it appears to be increasingly financial as homes in “high achieving” schools like Markham and Unionville are in constant demand on the real estate market.  No pressure. 

Think of the money

Are parents sub-consciously stressing children over EQAO scores to influence their property values? Say it isn’t so. Each year on meet the parent night in September, the test is front and centre on the agenda of many in attendance. With some time and clear information, many of their concerns are acknowledged and addressed. However, 8 months into another year, there are still remnants of confusion in the general public. Recent correlations between house prices and test scores are adding fuel to this fire?

So how can you help students overcome test anxiety? Last year I shared some of my strategies. Below you’ll find some others to choose from and build on;

a) Give them lots of tests and worksheets to build up students’ test-taking immune systems? This is a classic technique from the Drill and Kill Society of Educators. This would not be my personal strategy to share, but it is still widely in use. It is easily rationalized with, “Life is a test” and “Everything is a test.” To which I reply, “Life’s tests are, at least, meaningful.”
b) Develop strategies for answering questions? This involves a plan. I always suggest reading the questions over 2 or 3 times while highlighting the key points, skipping questions to revisit afterwards helps students to get past feeling stuck, double checking calculations helps make sure all steps were followed along the way, and re-reading answers afterwards for evidence of understanding. These techniques help students to a point, but are not test taking cure-alls.
c) You could also build higher order-thinking skills that apply understanding, knowledge, application, and evaluation into every response?
d) Don’t forget to look after your body. Drink water, have a snack, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and repeat motivational axiom of your choice. You got this.

Our corner

What did we do to prepare? Nothing. No sheet of paper was harmed in preparation for EQAO in my class. I posted some links to the EQAO homepage via our class web site at the beginning of the year after a parent requested them. Other than that, it’s been a beautiful year of asking engaging questions, interleaving concepts*, and opportunities to develop/use critical thinking in every aspect of the learning lives.

Let me know what strategies you use in the classroom to combat standardized test fatigue. Please share in the comments section and keep the conversation going. Thank you.

* More on Interleaving via http://www.greatmathsteachingideas.com/2015/02/01/building-interleaving-and-spaced-practice-into-our-pedagogy/

Updated: June 13, 2017 — 3:16 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

P/J lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, and divergent modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 110 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/


Add a Comment
  1. Susan Godin says:

    Hi Will,

    Thanks for corroborating my feelings in your blog. I was unable to connect to the interleaving link. Can you check it for me please, whenever.


    1. Will Gourley says:

      Thank you Sue,
      I appreciate how many in our world are wrestling with the same issues.
      The link is updated on my post and I am including it here too.
      Thanks again. Will

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