Our MCAS test begins today. Three days of testing in ELA (English Language Arts). Today, students are asked to write a personal narrative and the other two days, students will be given all other means of ELA testing: reading selections, multiple choice, essay response (open response), grammar, conventions, etc.

I do agree with these types of tests. That is, I do agree that students need to be proficient in these skills. However, the approach and the stress on these scores, I do not, but that’s another blog, another day. These tests are a reality for me and teachers across the country and it is during this time that we need to get into high gear as teachers and help our students balance themselves and their minds with some time for fresh air and creativity.

This is also a great time to build community in my classroom. Not only are we “in this together” as we prepare for and take the test, but the activities I choose to do when not testing this week can be crucial to community building.

One activity I will be doing is having students move before testing, during breaks and after testing. And by moving I mean having the students do a combination of aerobics, sports drills, dance and Tae Bo moves I’ve learned along the way. This is fun for me too! I get to do everything from “high knees” to plies in the classroom with my students. It gets our blood pumping and helps us to refocus. (BTW – a tip I’ve learned is to have students move their limbs across their bodies for the best “brain wake up”.)

In the afternoons this week, I will also be working with my class to compose some music! We will be writing the Erosion Blues as a culminating project for our unit on land and water. Integrating with our music teacher has helped prepare the kids for this composition experience.

We already began yesterday morning by taking time to listen to some blues music together, discovering how blues lyrics are written (A,A,B) and starting to write our lyrics to fit the form. The kids are excited about this, especially at the idea that we will (hopefully) have a completed song to record by the end of the week…maybe even with instruments!

Taking this time throughout the week to work on things collaboratively will help us to balance out the severity of the test and more importantly, will help us to bond as we create something new together.

For more about the blues project, visit Composing in the Classroom.