Ramp Down the Stress, Dial up the Wonder

Illustration by Kate Moore

Illustration by Kate Moore

It’s here. Across the country our kids are sitting down in front of computers or Scantron sheets, No. 2 pencils in hand. For many, standardized tests are a dreaded part of the school year. They drive the rhythm of class time and bring anxiety for teachers and students alike. And the questions arise, what are we measuring? Are we focused on the things that really matter?

At Pear Deck we write often about how to stay focused on what matters. In the words of our Chief Educator Michal, “We enter the teaching profession with passion for nurturing young minds and opening their eyes to a vast, boundless, beautiful world of wonder.” As a parent of elementary-aged students in the midst of test-week fever, I am struck by how difficult we make it for teachers and students to stay attuned to the world of wonder when navigating a sea of tiny bubbles. Here are a few suggestions for ways to ramp down the stress and dial up the wonder during test week.

Make room for emotions

As teachers and parents, one essential way we can help students prepare for the stress of testing is to simply recognize that the stress is real. Preparing kids psychologically to understand why they are being tested and how the test results may be used is a great start. Asking an open-ended question like “Why are we taking tests this week?” starts a conversation about why assessments matter and how the results may be used to develop future instruction. Following that up with an emotional check such as “How do you feel about these tests?” gives your students a safe way to tell you how they’re feeling. Whether they’re the test-loving type or more anxious, these checks help them feel connected and seen by you as their teacher. While the focus may be on the test, these weeks present a great opportunity to practice slowing down in the face of emotions, to invite emotions into the classroom, and to help students learn to identify and manage their emotional states.

“Be focused, be determined, be hopeful”

As the classroom leader you set the tone for your students, and a well-timed pep talk can really help your students settle and focus. Classrooms are often decorated with inspirational quotes that, by this time in the year, have receded into the background. Consider bringing a fresh perspective in by showing a quick video that connects the day’s activities with what students are truly working towards: a life lived with curiosity, dignity, and respect for others. Watching the first two minutes of this speech from First Lady Michelle Obama and listening to her encourage our children to “be focused, be determined, be hopeful” is a simple, emotionally-impactful way to provide a quick boost of encouragement.

Looking for a more personal way to encourage every student? Check out this amazing example. Super teacher Chadni Langford wrote simple, inspirational messages on every student’s desk during test week. What makes this move so powerful is that each message represents a personal connection between teacher and student. We certainly don’t know how those 5th graders scored on their test, but we can be sure that they felt that they were valued members of their class, and we know that kind of attention has the power to truly impact our students’ mindsets and confidence.

Stay Curious

Just because it’s test week doesn’t mean that we stop encouraging the curiosity, inquiry, and humanity of our students. While it’s understandable to have students silently read in their seats when they complete a test, and to continue regular instruction between test sessions, it’s also an opportunity to try out a creative activity that might spark wonder and curiosity. The New York Times has a wonderful feature called “What’s Going On In This Picture?” Every week they project an interesting image and ask students to answer three questions, What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? and What more can you find? Well-chosen images can be a quick way to spark a spirit of discovery and joy in students presenting a welcome break from the laser-focus of a test day. Try out the images from the New York Times or pick a beautiful piece of art or scene from nature to keep curiosity piqued.

You could also use the downtime between tests to have students create affirmation posters and share them with each other. This kind of quiet work during breaks loosens up those creative muscles, lets the mind relax, and can subtly direct students’ thoughts in a positive direction.

We all know that testing week can be full of challenges — for teachers and students! If we can invite emotions into the classroom, inspire positive thinking, and balance out test days by making space for a little wonder, we help students move beyond just surviving to thriving.


This week’s blog post was written by VP of Marketing Kate Beihl.

Kate Beihl