Educators educating Educators

Jan 19

September 12 Testing Tips

September 2012 Monthly Ed Tip!


A. Your son has a high-stakes test coming up. To quell his anxiety, he should psych himself up to do well, focus on calming his physical reactions, or set aside 10 minutes beforehand to write about his fears?


Off-loading anxieties by putting them down on paper frees your working memory - the mental space for thinking and problem solving - to focus on the task before you.


B. Next week your daughter has to give a big speech. The best way for her to prepare is to quiz herself trying to recall the material from memory, look over her notes a few times, read out loud from her presentation outline, or practice the speech with you.


Recalling information is far more effective than passively reading it over. Every time you summon facts from memory, you strengthen your brain’s hold on the material.


C. Your son just started music lessons. To motivate himself to practice, he should promise himself a favorite video game if he completes his practice schedule or choose pieces of music he enjoys playing.


As fun as the game sounds, research demonstrates we’re most engaged in learning when our motivation is intrinsic – stemming from the task rather than some external reward.


D. Intelligence is fixed: true or false. Sanford University researchers found that simply believing you can work at becoming smarter produces higher achievement.


Annie Murphy Paul, How We Learn: Don’t Know Much About History?. Parade Magazine, August 12, 2012




Sian Beilock, author of Choke, University of Chicago


Below are various insights Beilock offers in her book Choke


Testing situations


a. Immediately before a test, have students write about fears, beliefs, or shortcomings relating to the upcoming test. Research by Sian Beilock has shown that expressive writing/journalizing before a high-stakes test reduces the need to ruminate when in a high-stakes testing situation. This seems counter intuitive. However, when a student writes down their worries before a test offloads the stress by getting their thoughts and worries on paper. This helps inoculate the student against choking and pressure. The brain can be viewed as a computer running many programs at the same time. Shutting down one of the programs and the brain runs faster and smoother


b. Stanford graduate students filled out demographic information about their race prior to a test and then took a SAT like assessment. The test results of the black students were lower as compared to the controls that did not complete a demographic survey prior to the test. The same results are obtained for students with learning differences and gender differences who complete pretest questions.


c. Two months before taking medical boards, Cornell University medical students were given creativity tests. During the test, brain activity was measured. This is an extremely stressful time for all medical students because many of them have been working their whole lives to reach this point. The test group students performed poorly as compared to the control group who were medical students not studying for the boards. The same students took the same test 2 months afterwards, and the student performed just like the other students.


d. Why do these stressors occur? The brain works as a network. In stressful situations, the pre frontal cortex (PFC), which communicates with all parts of the brain, shuts off communication with select parts of the brain. The brain acts as a symphony and when you take out a section of the symphony, the quality of music declines. When the PFC stops communicating with other parts of the brain, the network doesn’t function as a unified network. As shown in the experiment with the Cornell University medical students, the PFC disengages from the creative, problem-solving areas of the brain


e. The Inferior Parietal Lobe is an area of the brain that is involved with number sense and the Middle Frontal Gyrus is associated with working memory




f. The brain is malleable and changes in relation to experiences it is exposed to in its environment. Below are some examples.


g. Children who have early music raining have more robust corpus callosum (the neural connection between the right and left hemisphere) then children who don’t. Beilock speculates this might help math performance later in life


h. Eleven 11 hours of meditation training changes how the brain is wired


i. London cab drivers have larger left hippocampus, involved in spatial navigation, due to driving London’s complicated streets


“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.