The Sunday Panel

How do you help students handle test anxiety?test anxiety

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City: My students definitely struggle with test anxiety. I try to boost their confidence by lots of practice prior to the test with similar looking questions, and practice interpreting questions. During the test I try to give them a ‘pep talk’ and teach them the strategy of going through the test and doing questions that they are more confidence about first.


Kimberly, Kimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
With the all of the emphasis on standardized testing these days, students and teachers both get anxious. To help my students (and colleagues) deal with their anxiety, I just remind them to keep perspective. I tell them that they have many qualities that make them great human beings; a test doesn’t define who they are. If they’ve prepared and studied, they should just do the best that they are capable of doing. In the grand scheme of things in life, a test is pretty minor.

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Jackie, Room 213: As with anything, preparation is key.  The more prepared the kids feel the less likely they are to feel anxious.  My regular academic students don’t write standardized tests, so the few tests I give them are all skills based, with little regurgitation.  So, if they have been working all along on the skills I will be assessing, they don’t have much anxiety.  If they haven’t been working, well, that’s another story, and maybe they should feel anxious 😉

My IB students are another story.  They write some very high stakes exams that are externally assessed, so we are all feeling anxious in May when they write their exams.  The other IB teachers and I work hard at reminding them that they have been preparing for this for three years and that they have to trust themselves and their abilities.  It’s just like a marathon runner who has been working hard and training for that one big race–s/he has to believe that all those early morning runs and days at the gym will pay off.  It’s still a very stressful week, though, and we just have to be there to support them during the two weeks when they are writing and to remind them to get some sleep and exercise so they can be focused and energetic when they write.

Making Review Fun

Play “Heads Up” to engage your students during review time!

Use the blank task cards that I have included at the end of this post.  You will print off multiple copies to play this game (or just use scrap paper!).  On each one, write the name of a character from your texts, or an important theme, symbol, etc.

Students can take turns squaring off: two students will come to the front of the class and one of them will draw from your pile of cards (put them face down so the word is not visible to the student who draws the card).  S/he will hold the card so the other student can see.  That student needs to get his/her partner to guess what is written on the card without using any of the words on the card.  For example, if the card said Atticus Finch, the partner might say, “Jem and Scout’s father”.  (To make it more challenging you could tell them they can’t use any names: in this case, the student might say, “He is the lawyer who stands up for what he believes in”).  Each pair of students has sixty seconds to see how many cards they can go through.

Alternately, put students in pairs, and have them write the names of characters, important themes, symbols, etc. on pieces of paper.  Each pair should come up with ten.  Put them all in a hat/container and pairs will take turn drawing from the hat.  One partner guesses during the first round, and they switch for the second round. Keep track of how many each pair gets right during the minute to see who wins in the end.

exam review


black T logoJackie, of Room 213, teaches high school English in Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow her at Real Learning in Room 213 and on Facebook.
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2014 Holiday Blog Hop


blog hop button 2014 (1)

In the spirit of “Faulkner’s Fast Five,” here are five thoughts for this holiday season…

1. On my holiday bucket list: Read a good book! When I went to the NCTE Annual Conference recently, several people recommended “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. I’m not sure I can even wait for our winter break to start reading!

2. Here’s a special tradition: We always join our friends and family in a Shuvunda (a gift you “shove under” the bed because you can’t take it back) gift exchange! Much like a White Elephant gift exchange, we always enjoy laughing at the gifts. One of my favorites was A Christmas Story Leg Lamp!

3. Need a gift idea? I love giving presents that keep giving back. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital sells beautiful ornaments that make great stocking stuffers or unique gifts for colleagues. I always get one for our tree, too, and each year when we decorate, I’m reminded of the patients who inspired the artwork on the ornaments.


4.My students love: Every year I create a holiday “gift book exchange.” I tell my students to find a gently used book or inexpensive new novel, and they bring in beautifully wrapped presents to share. It also helps me ensure that they read when they’re on vacation!


5. Finally, a gift for you: Recently I used these Free Analyzing an Argument Task Cards with my American Literature students. I numbered each card and distributed them to my students with their different abilities in mind. Each student completed his or task individually, but then the students met in groups (based on numbers) to discuss their analysis of Patrick Henry’s argument in “The Speech to the Second Virginia Convention.” Enjoy!

Thanks for “hopping” over to Cross Curricular Corner and celebrating the holidays with us!

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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Sunday Panel

How do you deal with assessment when students do a project together?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City: Collaborative learning, as we know, can be hugely beneficial, but have disadvantages as well. We know that students can take advantage of others, intentionally or not intentionally, and may not get the full benefit of the learning experience. However, they can also benefit from learning from each other, and from speaking and listening to the key vocabulary terms and concepts. Additionally, students need to have the chance to learn social skills and to practice positive, productive interactions with peers. The benefits of collaborative learning outweigh the negatives, if used carefully.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: The advantage is the ability for students to collaborate. It can cut down on off-topic chatter that interferes with work, while allowing students to learn with and from each other. It can make learning more active and engaging…

Assuming that students are actually working collaboratively. The downside is when group work is uneven in distribution– one or more students doing the work of remaining members. A truly student-led, open collaborative project is almost always, in my experience as student and teacher, going to have at least one student not pulling their weight (which also penalizes the others). I’ve even had students cover for others when each has assigned roles.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures: Students typically groan when I announce that I am having them participate in a group project. However, I get them to be a bit more on board when I explain my reasoning. The truth of the matter is, working collaboratively in groups is a life skill. When thinking about the CCSS we are supposed to make our students College and Career ready. In both environments students must work with others to accomplish tasks. Learning how to successfully navigate group work will make them a more employable and successful person later in life.


My Favorite Cooperative Learning Structures

There are so many different cooperative learning structures that you can use in your classroom. It’s all about what you want to get from your students and how you want them to interact.

Here are some of my favorites:
Brosseau - Kagan Book
Why it’s great: It is a very quick way to make partners, and then groups of four, and it allows students to move.
How to do it: All students stand up, put their hands up and mix around the room to find a partner where they pair up. Use a fist bump or high-five to indicate that they are partners. Hands go down when the student has a partner so that the partner-less students are easily identifiable.

Why it’s great: Students can use this to review, but I love it for practicing presentations.
How to do it: Form two circles with an equal number of students – use StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to form partners and have one be on the inside and the other on the outside of the circle. Students share their presentation (or answer to a question) then have the non-presenting student give feedback. Switch presenters and then rotate the inside circle (by one student or multiple students if you really want to mix things up)!

Why it’s great: 100% engagement all the time!
How to do it: Have the students create review questions on index cards, include the answer too. Start with StandUp-HandUp-PairUp and have the students quiz each other, explaining the answer if they student got it incorrect. Swap cards and it’s back to StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to find new partners. If you have an odd number of students, you can join in the fun too!

One Stray
Why it’s great: Students become confident in an idea or opinion, then one gets to shine as they travel to another group to share those ideas and opinions. It is also much more organized than having a bunch of different group members meet up.
How to do it: In your groups of four, pose a question, have the students number off and discuss the topic. Be sure to let the students know that they will need a good understanding. Pick a number and have that number become a “travelling star” – other groups will have to entice the stars to come sit with them. There, they share the ideas from their groups and can bring new information back to their home group.

I love Kagan structures! Dr. Spencer Kagan was the one to introduce me to these cooperative learning structures at GLACIE in Toronto. Dr. Vern Minor solidified my love for them at the same conference the following year. I don’t get paid to say that (I wish!), but if you are looking for one conference, or one resource to get you’ve got to check out

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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Using Roles in Collaborative Learning

teen groupWhen students are placed in collaborative groups, whether it be for a lab activity, literature circle, or other activity, it is very easy for them to become complacent and to let some (or one) member of the group carry the load.  While some of this may be intentional, I think that in some cases this is not completely intentional but due to the fact that stronger students may jump in, and weaker students may not know how, or be as quick to contribute.

Whatever the reason, one way to combat this is through the use of roles in the group.  I have found that for group roles to be successful, a few things must be in place:

  • The roles are legitimate, not created (there really are enough different group functions that need each other).
  • Students are held to their roles
  • Students are trained in their roles

This means that some time must be spent in class teaching the job ‘expectations’ and perhaps practicing.   Maybe roles are assigned the first time, and students can choose another time.  I have also found that it helps to have some sentence starters and clear examples for students of what their role looks or sounds like, and how they should/could interact.

There are many free versions online, but here are a few that I particularly like:

Role Cards from Read, Write, Think

POGIL Role Cards

Cooperative Learning Placards

These can even be laminated and attached to the table, or handed out repeatedly as students learn their roles.

Currently, especially with increasing technology use, many students truly don’t have good cooperative learning skills and are not good and the type of group interactions we would like to see.  As teachers, this becomes something we need to teach!

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
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Sunday Panel

How do you monitor and address the quality and equality of contributions from group members during cooperative Sunday Panel Stickylearning? 

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City: tI think this is very difficult, but one way to monitor and address group contributions is to assign roles within the group.  I have found that this works best if it is not a one time thing, but something where the roles are practiced and students become comfortable within their role.  This helps them be successful carrying that out, and learn to interact as a group..

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget:  I like to have at least part of the project worked on in class. This allows me to monitor (eavesdrop on) how students are dividing tasks and get a gauge for who is completing which parts. I also try to use group evaluation forms, though with moderate success as my students don’t want to “narc” each other out to the teacher for not working. To help with that I remind them that they will also get dinged on their grade if they mark a classmate as contributing more than they did and that I’ve been watching who was working on what..

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Jackie, Room 213: Like Clair, I monitor discussions in class, but they often change their focus when the teacher drops by, so it’s not always the most accurate assessment of what’s happening.  The group evaluations help, but we can’t use those every time, especially for informal group discussions.  This year I’ve started doing more modeled discussions.  I pick a group of students who represent all of the “types” of contributors (someone who likes to take over, someone who likes to blend into the woodwork, etc) and we have a discussion together in front of the class.  I direct the discussion so they can see what a good one looks like.  Has it solved everything?  No, but it’s one more tool in my toolbox!