Life is like a Box of…

Pralinen

Tests.

Thought I was gonna say ‘chocolate’, huh? Well, that too. But in the world of academia, life is very much dependent on testing.

We Make Our Students Take a lot of Tests

On average, US students take 113 tests from PreK-12th Grade. Add undergrad, grad school, and professional development to that number and I can’t even begin to tell you what it would be. Maybe 312? 559?

All I know, as a person who struggles with testing, is that whatever the number might calculate out to be, is one too many for me.

Test Anxiety & The Fear of the ‘What If’

Sometimes, I’m plagued with moments of self-doubt as little naysayer voices whisper in my student loan debit-ridden ear, “How did you get this far with your anxiety over tests?” In fact, that little voice reared its ugly head again just this past week, as took my final test for my credentialing.

Ahhhh, will the anxiousness ever just go away?!

What to Do about It

When my students face the same fear, I ask them to talk about it, make a contingency plan, define what they know, set realistic study goals, and change their mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I will’:

1. Talk About the Fear & The Reality of the Fear : I ask my students to tell me about the ‘what if’ scenarios: What if I get an F on this test? What if I have to retake the class? What if I fail 4th grade? We then go through each thought and discuss the reality of that possibility.

2. Make a Contingency Plan: The likelihood of the fear coming true is usually slim but just in case, we make a contingency plan: If I fail this test, I will have ask for a retake. If I fail this class, I will have to take a course in the summer.  Okay. So we can see that if the fear comes true, although it will delay our timeline, it’s not the end of world. There is another path.

3. Define What You Know: After there’s less emotion attached to each fear and a realistic contingency plan in place, I ask my students to tell me what they know about the test. See, often our fears stem from the unknown. If I can get my students (and myself!) to articulate the known factors about the test, then that gives us a clear starting point to begin working on confidence and trust in their own abilities.

4. Set Realistic Study Goals: Studying for 12 hours a day/7 days a week is not realistic. I’ve come to realize, through my own experience, that it’s really not about studying more that gets the passing score. Your brain is a muscle and it gets tired and needs to rest too. So, let’s help the muscle by giving ourselves timely brain breaks. This means mapping out a realistic time management study schedule that allows the student to do fun things, family things, and friend things as well as study.

5. Change Your Mindset: This is too hard! I can’t do this! I’ll never get it! I try to help my students realize that every time we feed these negative messages to ourselves, we are training our brain to believe it. That’s something I recently learned when I had my very first hypnotherapy session for my own test anxiety. The more we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, the more we begin to believe that it’s true. So if we continue to tell ourselves ‘we’ll never pass this test’, then we may experience a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When we change the message, we can change our mindset. You are already good enough. Period.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

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Everyone is Special. There is No Normal and That’s a Good Thing

special40 years ago a public school’s Special Education program resembled more of institution than a classroom. Today, with the inclusion model in full force our Special Education programs seek to mainstream even the most severe children.

Extra Attention Paid to Special Students Takes Away from Rest of the Class?

Some educators and parents disagree with the inclusion methodology because there will inevitably be extra-needed attention paid to that one special student while the rest of the class waits for the teacher to get back to general lesson.

I understand their point. Inclusion looks good on paper but it doesn’t always work in practice. However, that argument is too linear for today’s classroom because the times really are a changin’.

There are More Special Ed Students in General Ed Classrooms Than Ever Before

The push and pull of the special education spectrum is ever-changing, and today’s classroom includes a greater number of Special Education students than ever before.

The National Education Association agrees:

Over the past 10 years, the number of U.S. students enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent. Three out of every four students with disabilities spend part or all of their school day in a general education classroom. In turn, nearly every general education classroom across the country includes students with disabilities. Each school and school district must determine the best way to conduct programs and figure out how to pay for them.

This trend isn’t ending anytime soon.

The fact of the matter is that with new diagnosis, new cognitive neuroscience research, new identified learning disabilities, and new psychological re-classifications (like the updated DSM-V, which does away with Asperger’s and instead diagnosis Autism with various severity levels) there will be more kids in the general education classroom receiving special education services.

This is not a bad thing because it means science, psychology, and education are beginning to merge, pinpointing how each individual learns best.

The More We Understand How Best Our Students Learn, The More We Realize There is No Normal

Was there ever really a “normal”, per se? Our education system seems to think so with its “normalized ranges” and standardized testing. The term normal has been replaced with the softer “grade level” and “developmental” verbiage. Although the nomenclature has changed, our generalized viewpoints have not. Our education system still believes there is a normal standard of achievement.

But normal is a variance. It is not concrete. It is not a one-size-fits-all ideal.

So the quicker we understand that each of the 32 kids in the class learns differently, the quicker we can get on with helping them identify and use the best tools and strategies to understand the lesson respectively.

Normal never was but different will always be. And that’s a good thing.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.