Archive for January, 2010

Prepared for Success

January 10, 2010 Leave a comment

As we approach exams for first semester, teacher and student anxiety is building. I would like to share the research-based test-taking strategies that I have observed you practice throughout the semester that will contribute to our students’ success. This week’s message will conclude with student reminders that I hope are beneficial as you try to decrease test anxiety for our kids.

You continue to work to ensure that the curriculum is aligned with the standard course of study and that your pacing is appropriate. This is perhaps the most obvious and most discussed method of test preparation.  Through vertical alignment, discussions within your department, and sharing/adjusting pacing guides, you are making important instructional decisions that will give your students the best possible opportunity to experience success.

You have established a safe and caring emotional climate. Your hard work will help students feel secure, take more academic risks, and try again until they succeed. Continue to communicate the relationship between effort and achievement as well as your belief that your students will succeed.

You continue to use vocabulary, literacy, and formative assessment strategies that have created a climate for learning that is centered on the occurrence of frequent and quick reviews of previously learned material. Because your students are accustomed to regular reviews and they are aware of your expectations, you have created yet another plan for success. The self-assessment focus in our professional development is a means by which to help students learn to test themselves.  Because your students have experienced informal formative assessments, benchmark assessments, and self-assessments, they will rise to the occasion when taking exams.

I have seen many of you continue to work with students to unpack the language of the test and build students’ sense of security with test vocabulary. You have provided explicit practice to help students gain a greater understanding the language of both the test and the content to be tested.  Understanding that students often miss questions that contain information they already know because they cannot translate the language found in the question has helped prepare students for success.  By unpacking the language of the test, you have provided yet another means for student success.

Not only have worked to unpack the language of the test, but you have also used these terms in class.  I have heard you infuse these terms in discussions, writing assignments, quiz and test questions, tickets out the door, and graphic organizers.   You understand the importance of having students use these vocabulary terms when they take multiple-choice tests, but you also realize that it is imperative that students see and use these words outside of a standardized testing situation so they truly understand the meaning of the language and become comfortable using words that could potentially become stumbling blocks.

Perhaps reflecting on all the strategies that you have used throughout the semester will help alleviate some of your anxiety. I appreciate all that you do for our students.

Some Quick Pointers to Share with Students

  • Read the question before you look at the answer.
  • Come up with the answer in your head before looking at the possible answers.  This way the choices given on the test will not throw you off or trick you.
  • Eliminate answers you know are not correct.
  • Read all the choices before choosing your answer.
  • Always take an educated guess and select an answer.
  • Usually your first choice is the right one, unless you misread the question.
  • A positive choice is more likely to be true than a negative one.

Please feel free to send your test-taking strategies out to the HHS Faculty this week so that everyone has the opportunity to share as many strategies with our students as possible.


Delivering Critical Messages

January 5, 2010 2 comments

As we approach the end of the first semester and anticipate the beginning of second semester, it is important to make sure that we continue to cultivate a We-Expect-Success attitude with our students. Some of our students are beginning to look for excuses to explain their failure. We must keep sending the message that their efforts are important and that their efforts will impact their performance.

Robert Marzano (2003), in his meta-analysis of research on motivation, identifies five lines of research that explain our motivation to learn. One line of research is attribution theory, which focuses on what students perceive to be the cause of their success or failure, such as ability, effort, luck, task difficulty, etc. Of the factors named, Marzano concludes that effort is the most useful because a strong belief in effort as a cause of success can translate into a willingness to engage in complex tasks and to persist.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel weighed in on the importance of an effort-based belief system in the 2008 report Foundations for Success. The report states:

“Children’s goals and beliefs about learning are related to their mathematics performance. Experimental studies have demonstrated that changing children’s beliefs from a focus on ability to a focus on effort increases their engagement in mathematics learning, which in turn improves mathematics outcomes: When children believe that their efforts to learn make them “smarter” they show greater persistence in mathematics learning.”

Jonathan Saphier is another of the many researchers who writes about the role of beliefs and effort-based ability. He concluded that a student’s belief in his or her efforts rather than his or her innate ability is the most important determinant of student learning. He also stated that these beliefs can enable all students to do rigorous academic work at high standards. According to Saphier, schools that recognize and celebrate effort-based ability communicate three critical messages to all students:

1. What we are doing here is important.

2. You can do it.

3. I’m not going to give up on you—even if you give up on yourself (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, pp. 89-90).

What message are we sending to our students if we communicate to the class, either explicitly or implicitly, that we expect final grades to follow the bell curve?

Many students will interpret this message as, “Only a few of you can expect to get A’s in this class.” This is hardly a We-Expect-Success message.

Contrast this example to the message that students receive when a teacher announces that he or she expects grades to cluster at the lower end of the grading scale at the beginning of instruction, approach normal distribution as different students master content and skills at different times, and follow the “J” curve, with most students earning high scores by the time summative grades are posted.

By using the formative assessment strategies that we are learning during our professional development, we can continue to show students that their efforts are directly correlated to their academic success. Formative assessment is another means to communicate the message that we expect success.

Thank you for your willingness to send critical messages to our kids that communicate the importance of their effort and our belief in them.  Recognizing and celebrating the fact that the effort that they put in will result in their academic success will not only help our students become more motivated but also help them realize that they can be successful.


Westerberg, T. R. (2009). Cultivating a we expect success attitude. Becoming a great high school: 6 strategies and 1 attitude that make a difference (pp. 7-10). Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.