“Testing of all kinds creates stress because students perceive it to be a judgment of their intelligence.”
“Students are under far greater stress when they take summative assessments than when they formative assessments because they know that summative assessments generally carry far greater weight in determing their grades.”
“…stress produces cortisol — the hormone that directs the brain’s attention to the source of the stress. So instead of concentrating on providing the cognitive information required by the test questions, some of the brain’s neural efforts are now committed to the emotional task of worrying about the individual’s test scores and its implications. As a result, the student’s performance on the test is very likely to be lower than it would have been without the stress.”
— David A. Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson in Differentiation and The Brain
“…students can hit any target they can see and that holds still for them.”
— Rick Stiggins
So, the question I wanted to explore was, “What can I do to reduce stress prior to a ‘traditional’ pen-and-paper test?”
Here’s what I tried, using SIX THINKING HATS:
WHITE HAT (Facts):
- BEFORE TEST: I provided a DIAGNOSTIC TEST before the unit, which we marked together and which the students were able to keep in their binders for the entire unit.
- BEFORE TEST:A day or two prior to the test, I gave them the same diagnostic test again and told them that one section of the test would look like this pre-test.
- BEFORE TEST:I then gave them a version of the test up front. Part A had the definitions in a match-the-columns format while Part B asked them to demonstrate their understanding of the terms and concepts by applying that knowledge to a text they had not seen before of my choosing.
- BEFORE TEST:The day before the test I had the students play the game “I Have… Who Has…?” as a study tool.
- BEFORE TEST:On the day of the test, I used a community building activity (4 Corners) with the Traffic Light system for students to gain knowledge, build confidence, and, hopefully, allay fears or stresses. Once the students had picked one of the 4 Corners, I then asked each person to tell a neighbour one concept they felt ‘Green Light’ or confident about and why, and then to a second person, the students were asked to explain one concept that they are feeling Yellow Light or Red Light or not so confident about.
- DURING TEST: I then had the students write the test in the library. The reason I choose this was because it is a bigger room, so students could choose who they sat with and where; the library has a computer lab so any student who wanted or needed to type instead of handwrite could; and as students finished the test at different times, they could go on to the computers to begin work on a unit project.
- DURING TEST: For Part B of the test, the application of their knowledge to a site passage, I provided three pieces of text, which I informed them were chosen according to the Traffic Light: Green was probably the most challenging, Yellow was a balance between accessible and challenging, while the Red option was perhaps the most accessible. I should like to think that this is a form of tiering, a strategy associated with differentiation. Instead of imposing a choice upon the students based on my own knowledge of them as well as any assessment data I had gathered from the pre-test, I allowed the students to choose the article for themselves.
BLACK HAT (Dangers, Warnings, Negatives):
- What about ‘test integrity’?
- How is this preparing students for university or the workplace?
- What about classroom management issues?
- What about preparation issues / time issues?
YELLOW HAT (Positives):
- How might this environment have helped to reduce stress and potentially diminish the production of CORTISOL?
- How might this type of testing environment help to create what Barrie Bennett has called a “Positive Feeling Tone” in the classroom?
GREEN HAT (Creative Thinking):
- What is STAD and how might it apply to test-writing?
- What is GAME-BASED LEARNING and how might it apply to test-writing?
- What is COLLABORATIVE TEST-WRITING?
BLUE HAT (Reflecting):
- What is the value in traditional ‘pencil-and-paper’ testing in the 21st century?