“I just noticed everybody’s so happy about testing.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, offers a lot for teachers to think about. One of the sections of the book describes how a simple question about race can hurt students’ performance on a standardized test if they already have insecurities about it. It occurred to me if such a subtle negative implication could have such a powerful effect, it was particularly important to set up positive reinforcement to have the opposite effect.
The Implicit Race Association Test is meant to measure prejudicial attitudes of beliefs. You can check out this test here if you’re interested: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ According to Malcolm Gladwell, it is very difficult to improve your performance on this test unless you happen to see positive examples right before you take it. He cites other examples of studies that showed how receiving encouragement can improve performance.
So, our grade level team hosted a Family Night dinner to specifically provide students with the positive reinforcement that could pump them up right before the test. I’m not going to say it was easy, but the steps were straightforward.
1. Someone sends home an invitation for the students and their families. Parents, siblings, cousins and any one who is related to the student are allowed to come.
2. In order to feed 90 students and their families, someone has to go shopping for a lot of spaghetti, spaghetti sauce and bread.
3. The teachers divide up the spaghetti to cook at home and bring to school.
4. Someone bakes a cake. In our case, someone bakes 6 cakes (me) and puts them all together with 6 tubs of frosting. A bar graph in frosting? Yes.
(In case you’re wondering, the blue bar is us and the red bar is everybody else.)
If you make the cake too big then you will have to transport it in your trunk.
5. The night goes like this:
6:00-6:20 As parents and students come in, they get food and sit down.
6:20-6:40 Teachers share how positive thinking makes a big impact via powerpoint, anecdotes and maybe a homemade video.
6:40-6:50 Student groups perform dances, skits and general displays of enthusiasm that they have been rehearsing.
6:50-7:00 Parents write words of encouragement on a poster.
I am sure there are many variations on this idea, but the essential idea is the same. Every student should be happy about testing because it’s the chance to show off how much they’ve learned. It is so great to share that excitement with our students’ families.