Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sparking Student Motivation: Being BRAVE

I have written this post a bunch of times in my head. I was really excited about the topic, but never sat down to actually put the words on the screen. 
This post is about what I did with my grade level, in February and early March, to motivate our 5th graders, as we prepared for the big state writing test. 
Let's face it, testing stinks! 
It is stressful for teachers and students. 
This year I was determined to make our writing test prep a little more fun and use our time efficiently. 
During a team meeting we talked about how to motivate and excite the kids about the upcoming writing test. It is one of the 3 promotional tests for 5th graders, and they dread it. 
All year we worked hard on presenting the curriculum in unique ways. 
Our school has a unique approach using technology and closed circuit television. We broadcast a weekly lesson on topics that we know will help them succeed. Each teacher takes a turn leading the televised lessons. 
Our Live Writing lessons went well this year. As a grade level we knew that every student (and teacher) was exposed to the skills and techniques that are crucial to good writing. These lessons are helpful, but as February neared, all of us wanted to focus on the specific skills of our kids. We were feeling the pressure and wanted to be able to differentiate and stick with the flow and needs in our rooms. 
As you all know, a stressed out teacher, is not the best teacher. Step 1 to motivate our kids was to recognize our limits so we could be the best teachers possible. 
Our weekly Live Writing lessons starts out with an opening song and credits, just like you would see on a television show. This year's opening song was Brave by Sara Bereilles. All year we focused on the lyrics, "I want you to be brave. Say what you wanna say, Let the words fall out." 
As the year progressed, the kids sang along and knew all of the words. 
When we tossed around ideas, we decided we wanted to do something around the theme of being Brave. Step 2, capitalize on something they were already familiar with. 
During the discussion, we tossed around how to present a final motivating lesson before the test. One of my teammates came up with the great idea of holding a Writing Boot Camp. Step 3 was to come up with a theme that would appeal to both the boys and girls. We figured a boot camp theme, was motivating for both boys and girls. 
As we talked, we decided that during boot camp we would teach 4 final lessons before the test and have all of the classes rotate through the camps. (Step 4) Review and remind them of the key skills they already know, do not teach anything new. This meant not introducing new acronyms, use what every class was already utilizing. 
That is where we expanded on the song and idea of Brave again. We used the title, turned it in to an acronym that they could walk away and apply on the day of the test (step 5). What do you need during boot camp and a high-stakes test? To be Brave!  

Step 6: Add visuals that students would remember. 
Step 7: Make posters for the students to see every day leading up the to test. 

To make the boot camp more fun and memorable we decided to dress the part. All of the teachers wore camouflage shirts with our school logo, the phrase "Be BRAVE" and a 5 for 5th grade.
Step 8:  I created the iron-ons with my Silhouette. 

(This was time consuming, but well worth it! I am still a novice with my Cameo, with experience I am sure it would have been quicker.)

I even made a shirt for our principal and assistant principal. It was really difficult to find those camo t-shirts, so I made camo logos and ironed them on black shirts (black is one of our school colors).

They proudly wore them that day and the day of the test. Our principal made a point during our morning announcements to talk about the shirt, the meaning, told the students to be BRAVE and that she was proud of them.
The shirts were worn again during our other high-stakes tests and on the day we told the students the test results. 
Step 9: Make the boot camp lessons brief, engaging, and fun. We spilt our teachers in to 2 teams, split the lessons in to 4 sessions lasting 30 minute. Each teacher paired up to plan their lesson connected to the BRAVE theme. 
During each session we did a fun filled writing activity, and gave out a prize. By rotating the classes through different teachers we knew that they would be open to hearing things. Better to change the presenter every 30 minutes than having a 2 hour session with their regular teacher. The kids did not even realize they worked on writing for 2 hours, and we knew they heard the most important information. 
Step 10: Give everyone a takeaway gift to remember the day. Camo pencils and Be BRAVE dog tags (also cut with the Silhouette).

Our writing boot camp day was awesome. The kids had fun, did not feel overwhelmed, they were instead were pumped up and prepared for the test. We motivated them to the be BRAVE, to do their best, and to feel good about the upcoming test. 
Student feedback was excellent and we received several emails from parents about the excellent work we had done. Students were talking non-stop about their camo-dressesd teachers and the boot camp. The pencils were cherished and the dog tags were worn proudly throughout the remainder of the school year. 
Did it work? 
Yes, we motivated the kids. 
Did it help test scores?
Yes, it did. Our kids blew away the test and the scores were impressive. 
Were the great results all due to our boot camp? 
Well, probably not. But, I did notice that this group was the most relaxed of all of the groups I have worked with. They were prepared and they knew what to do. 
The teachers also felt they had done everything they could to prepare them and they felt relaxed. 
The best thing we did to motivate them was to be excited about the way we taught writing on the final days before the test. The boot camp approach was fun, exciting, and definitely motivating. 
Next year, we plan to present another boot camp since it was such a success. I know testing is never fun, so it is always good to find something that eases the stress, motivates, and makes everyone feel prepared!

Are you looking for more ideas on how to motivate your students? Check out Joanne's posts and the links at Head Over Heels for Teaching.  
As always, thanks for stopping by to read my post. Do you know what motivates me? Comments! If you have questions or ideas, please feel free to share them!

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