This week, as I’ve been helping my students prepare for the third grade state tests, I remembered a life lesson from long ago. Here’s the long story made short: When one of my own children was younger – three or four years old – he struggled mightily with his temper. He was getting ready to start preschool, and we were concerned. We took him to a wonderful child psychologist. At the end of his first session he emerged with several little notecards in his hand. They said things like, “I do my best,” and “My best is good enough.” His counselor had written out the words and let him draw colorful pictures of things he was good at on each card. He looked so proud. The sight of my boy, who couldn’t even read yet, holding these precious words in his hands about broke my heart. In all our eagerness to ‘fix’ his issues, we’d forgotten to acknowledge the fact that he wasn’t choosing his own limitations, that he was doing the best he could with the tools he had. He carried those cards all over the house and put them in his room where he could see them. In the days to come those cards served as a reminder to us as well, to do our best tread carefully, even as we were working to help him increase his repertoire of strategies for dealing with his own feelings.
At our school we really try to be diligent about not over-emphasizing the state assessments. For the first nine-tenths of our year-round school year, we hardly even say the phrase STAAR Test. We focus on the learning goals, knowing that that if we teach them well, assessments big and small will take care of themselves. This time of the year, however, when the test is less than two weeks away, there’s no way around talking about it. It’s time to help students think about test-taking strategies and pacing, about being sure to prove their thinking. They learn how to eliminate those two silly answers and ways to keep their eyes open for sneaky test-maker tricks.
Since we’ve got to take it, I’ve found it works best to reframe the experience. Rather than minimizing it too much or dreading it such that our bellies hurt, we try to think of it as an opportunity to show off our hard work and the amazing progress we’ve made this year as learners. We are dancers twirling across the stage at our end of year recital or soccer goalies in the last game of the tournament. Let’s see how many questions we can keep from getting past us! It can even be a little bit fun, I tell them. As weirdly nerdy as it might be, I believe this. I kind of liked taking tests I was a student. I would imagine my desk as my office and the test as the paperwork I needed to attend to before lunch.
Despite my pep talk, as we began our test prep last week, one of my little students came up and asked if it might just be possible to skip the test. “I’m feeling pretty nervous,” she said. My heart went out to her. “You know what, there’s no need to be nervous because your best is good enough. Are you going to do your best?” Affirmative. “Then that is far and away good enough for me, and for our school, and for the state of Texas — because how can you do better than your best?”
The awesome thing about the this affirmation – my best is good enough – is the accountability inherent in it. The doer asks, “Am I giving it all I have?” Check. The one making the demand asks, “How can I ask more than someone’s best?”
We’ve a little more than a week to go until “the big game.” Yesterday we made these paper-plate affirmations and hung them over our desks with string and paperclips.
Here are some my students made. They came out so cute!
Hopefully if our shoulders start climbing towards our ears, these little guys (who look like they have milk mustaches 😉 ) will remind us to breathe and to smile.