Letters of Love for State Testing

Letters of Love

Next week is our state math exam.  In total, the students participate in three days of ELA exams and three days of math exams.  It’s a time that can be stressful for students but I’d like to share a great way to quickly reduce the students’ stress…. Letters of Love!

About two weeks prior to the exams, I write to the families of my students asking them to send in anywhere between one and six letters.  It’s completely their choice whether they send one letter that can be reread every day, a handful of letters that can be read and reread or six different letters for each day.  The instructions are simple.  Write a letter of encouragement to your student.  I add a few suggestions that are listed below.

  • It doesn’t have to be long.
  • Keep it positive! 🙂
  • Feel free to include drawings, pictures or photographs.
  • Use your creativity.
  • Last year we even had notes written from students’ pets.  These letters definitely made the kids smile!

We all know the families give our students extra big hugs and take the time to encourage the kids before they run out the door to catch the bus on the days of the exams.  But, by the time the students ride the bus to school (for some of our students it’s close to an hour), see their friends, eat breakfast, go to the bathroom and return to their seats for the day, they aren’t thinking about the giant hug they received.  I wanted my students to take a deep breath and hear that they are loved from the people who matter most to them right before they started each exam.

Here are three important pointers about Letters of Love…

  • Set a due date for the letters a few days before the exam. That way you’ll know which students didn’t get a letter.  Make sure to write letters of encouragement to all of the students who didn’t receive a letter from home.  Every student has to have a letter on his/her desk on the day of each exam.  If letters trickle in after the due date, replace the letter you wrote with the one from home.
  • Do not leave the letters on the desks during the exam. My kids read the letters in the morning while they are eating breakfast and coloring (another stress reliever) before announcements.  Well before I begin reading test directions, I collect the letters.  I guess this one depends on the state you are in, but we would not be allowed to keep the letters on the students’ desks during actual testing.
  • Let the students keep their letters once all of the exams are over.

This has been the easiest thing to implement.  The families love it and so do the kids.  It gives students a chance to relax and take a deep breath before each exam which is exactly what I need them to do.  And yes, I really do have pets write letters.  Families are so creative!  How cool is it to come in on the day of an exam and read a letter of encouragement from your horse, cat or dog?  It’s a guaranteed smile on the child’s face, instant giggling from all of the friends sitting nearby and most importantly, the perfect opportunity to relax!

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Reading is Supposed to be Quiet, Right? Wrong!

Partner Reading Final

In our classroom, I utilize a reading workshop model.  A mini-lesson followed by independent reading and guided reading.  I’ve always wondered how I could make independent reading more robust.  I love the “why” of independent reading but there were always a few students who weren’t totally into it.  Given that so much time is spent independent reading each day, I needed to make sure students were getting a ton out of it.  Last year I had the opportunity to see Ellin Keene model a guided reading lesson with some students from our school and a light bulb went off as she was teaching.  So, at the end of last year, my class and I started partner reading.  The basic premise goes like this… as long as you are not meeting for guided reading on a given day, you may read with a partner.  Easy, right?  Want to get started?  Here’s how we did it.

GET STARTED

Keep It Simple

  • Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
    • I didn’t want the kids to have to read with someone in their guided reading group.  So I asked the kids before we started, “What will we do if your partner is in guided reading one day and you get called to guided reading on a different day?”  Their response, “We’ll read a different book until our partner is available.”  Problem solved.  Kids are the best, aren’t they?
    • If you don’t have two copies of the same book for each partner, the kids will read out of one copy.
    • Let the kids decide how they read. They can alternate reading aloud by paragraph, page, chapter or section.  Some prefer to read a chunk silently then talk.  Others assign roles and alternate by characters, narrator etc (more on this to come).
    • Don’t think about reading levels. Don’t choose the book for the kids.  Let them pick by interest only.  They’ll abandon the book if they aren’t getting anything out of it.
  • Let it be fluid. When they finish, they can read another book with the same partner or wait for a new partner to become available.  While they wait, they read independently.  It doesn’t need to be complicated.  No rotating charts.  Leave it to the kids to figure out.
  • Make sure there is some variety in reading partners.  I really don’t monitor this much because the partners have changed naturally but just make sure the same two kids aren’t always reading together.  They’ll learn different things from different partners.
  • Embrace the noise! Reading time is supposed to be quiet, right? Wrong!  The room will be louder than you’re probably used to during independent reading time but as you listen in, you’ll hear amazing things.  I like a loud classroom but still found I noticed the noise initially.  I would look up from my guided reading group to scan the room.  After a quick scan I realized I was the only one who noticed the noise.  Seeing the benefits, I quickly embraced the noise.

OBSERVABLE BENEFITS

We Love Reading

  • Increase in on-task behavior during reading time. With an accountability partner, students are more engaged and they all read.
  • More questions are asked and predictions are shared as kids read. When you have a buddy to turn to, why not ask and share?
  • Word solving becomes more fun. The kids are more likely to stop and figure out words when they have a buddy to help.  They are also more likely to notice they’ve made a mistake in the first place.
  • Huge increase in fluency.  Students become the characters.  I mean, they really get into it!  They change their voices and take on roles as they read, just like a play.  Conversations can actually be read in a back and forth style.  I’m not sure this always happens when students read independently.
  • Book recommendations, galore! Students become more interested in what other people are reading because they overhear bits and pieces.  Plus, they are more into what they’re reading so they beg others to read the books when they’re done.
  • Interactions with multiple students in the class. Sometimes the partners they choose surprise me, in the best way.  It’s great to see students step out of their comfort zones and bond over a love for a certain type of book.
  • It’s enjoyable! They’ll be reading more accurately and fluently.  They understand better.  What’s not to enjoy?  I hear giggling and gasping, belly laughing and anger.  They run up to me when reading is over and grill me, “Why would the author do that?”
  • Did I mention how much they look forward to reading? When I call guided reading groups I hear a lot of, “Urgh! Now we have to wait until tomorrow to read together!” comments.  It’s not because they don’t like guided reading but rather that they’re dying to partner read.

We are social people.  When I read a book, I talk about it.  I join Twitter chats and Voxer groups so I can flesh out my thinking.  Let’s not deprive our students of this natural reading opportunity in the classroom.