Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Inspiring Students in Common Core - Part 2

 The Cookie Challenge

Thank God for the Dollar General and their cheaper cookies.  I invest a lot of money in cookies for test prep.  We had what we called “The Cookie Challenge” this year.  Last year, it was all about “Smarties.”  Here’s the background…..

After Spring Break, it is time to crack down and review for what my state calls TCAP testing……standardized testing, filling in a bubble sheet, sit for hours, show what you know in one setting.  I take it serious…… very serious…….and I want my students to do so as well.  Here’s what they hate:

The dreaded practice book with a bubble sheet.  I’ve used them before, and I know they are beneficial to gather data about in what skills each student is deficient.  However, I committed myself to “Common Core” the practice test.  This turned out to follow the same direction I’m finding for EVERYTHING about common core which is……  All my work as a teacher is in the planning.  I spend all my time PREPARING for the classroom…..typing, designing, printing, thinking, typing, powerpointing, thinking, typing, researching, thinking……you get the picture.  However, when it is classroom time, I’m pretty much “off duty” for the majority of the class.  They take over. 

Here’s what I did.  I took the practice test apart and broke it down.  I cut and pasted the stimulus to a page with a border.  I make dazzling power point slides of the questions with the four choices.  I stalked Scrappin Doodles for every piece of free or on-sale clip art.  I praised the good Lord for Krista Wallden’s freebies during this time.  Then I designed every week around that stimulus.  They worked in their groups.  They conducted Socratic Seminars.  They wrote argumentative pieces about why they were right and the other groups were wrong.  They made posters.  They used my “Common Core Worksheet.”  They analyzed their group answers as to what percentage of the group agreed and exactly how sure were they.  They broke each piece of text down and had what we called “cookie prep” time, which just simply meant they were studying for the test.

Cookie Challenge Day:  They were ready.  They knew the text.  They knew they were right about the answers.  They were prepared.  They had even used at one point……….dare I say it……. A DICTIONARY  or their NOTES to verify their answer.

They knew the rules.  NO TALKING during the cookie challenge.  The days of talking were behind them, and it was time to show what they know!!!  I would say, “Power up your voter!!!  Enter your pin.  No talking from this point.”    Then the question would come on the Promethean Board.  It was simple.  They had discussed it thoroughly.  All of those eyes were smiling at me as I waited for them to send in their answer across the airwaves.  When the last button is pushed, the graph immediately comes on the screen.  It only gives a percentage – not the student names.  They know if 100% get the answer correct – an answer I DID NOT GIVE THEM – then they all get a cookie.  Oh, the joy and the screams and the smiles and the victory of that cookie. 

Until……….. when we come to that question……the one where there were two answers that were so tempting……the one where hot discussions were had about “I’m right because….” or “You’re wrong because…….”  That question in which the one person chooses the wrong answer.  Maybe they didn’t care.   Maybe they didn’t pay attention.  Maybe they were not persuaded to change their mind during the class discussions.  Maybe they just hit the wrong button.  For whatever reason, the screen does not show 100%.  No cookie.  Life is over.

Until the teacher in me says in my most encouraging voice, “But that’s great!!!  The majority got it right!!!!!!!”  Oh, the glares I got for that comment.  That doesn’t help.  That doesn’t matter.  That isn’t good. Don’t you understand?????????


This became their chant.  That became their motto.  One even made a T-SHIRT!!!!!!  Even though I was thrilled to see the majority ruling the board.  Even though I knew they learned these answers on their own.  Even though my pocketbook was sighing in relief because I got to keep a pack of cookies for next week’s challenge.  Even though we were actually enjoying learning.  Even though things were going great, and we were reviewing like crazy………….  It still meant that “Majority isn’t cookie!!!”

We finished the practice book the week before testing.  I had one student ask me, “Are we going to do that blue practice book before the test?”  Their reaction was priceless when I said, “You just did.” 

Test day – April 28.  I’m wearing my Cookie Challenge shirt.  They come into their classrooms to find I have finally hit  my retirement fund and splurged on ………….OREOS for test day.  Oh, the joy.   FYI – the straw beside the goody bag……….Brain-based research….give them something to chew on during stress-filled tests. 

It's been a wonderful year.  Testing is over.  The cookies are gone.  Summer break is around the corner.  I am blessed.  

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