It’s that time of year!
Teachers around the world are feeling anxious knowing that they have to subject their class to the inevitable assessments. Unfortunately most teachers know that assessments, particularly for young children, are not the way to get the best out of children. Despite this they are forced to carry them out, and their job may even be dependent on the results the children get!
What can you do to support your children at this uncomfortable time?
Well, there are lots of ways you can support your class before and during assessments. It is vital that we approach any test with a calm and happy attitude. The thing responsible for more disastrous results than lack of revision, even poor attendance, is nerves.
The problem comes from our physical anatomy. You see nerves (stress and anxiety) are physical reactions to being afraid. As soon as we feel scared our body responds with a series of chemical and physical changes (fight, flight or freeze response), one of which is shutting down the part of our brain that we need most during stressful exams, our prefrontal cortex. When this part of our brain is compromised we lose the ability recall information, reason, solve problems… all the skills we need to successfully complete an assessment.
Fortunately there are lots of practical techniques we can teach our children in order to help them calm down and focus on the task in hand.
One of the first things that happens when we feel anxious is that our breathing becomes quick and shallow. Our brain picks up on this change in our breathing and initiates our fight, flight or freeze sequence. So, in order to reverse this process we simply need to slow our breathing down. There are many simple breathing techniques children can learn but for use during assessments 7-11 Breathing is probably the most discreet.
This breathing technique is so simple, anyone who can count to 11 can do it. Simply breathe in as you count to 7 and breathe out as you count to 11. (don’t count too slowly 11 is a long time to be breathing out!) Just repeat this process 3-5 times and that is enough to make you feel calm and reverse the fight, flight or freeze response.
My heart breaks when I hear about schools who reduce the curriculum to core subjects before assessments because having a broad a balanced curriculum is more important than ever at this time. I also regularly hear of schools keeping children in at break and lunch times to do extra work. This can be so counter productive. When we feel anxious or worried there is a build up of chemicals in our bodies and one of the best ways to reduce these levels is to get plenty of exercise. As adults we know we feel less stressed after an hour at the gym or a run but so many schools reduce the amount of physical activity the children get before assessments which just makes them feel more anxious.
Even if you just get your class to stand up and run on the spot or do some star jumps It will make them feel so much calmer.
When we laugh our bodies release happy chemicals which relaxes us and makes us feel happy. As we have already discovered, when we feel relaxed our brain functions much more effectively. Encourage laughter, be silly and put your class at ease during times of assessment, but not just then, all the time!
These activities are essential during times of assessment but not just then. We not only recall facts better when our brain is feeling relaxed and calm, we also learn better. Make your classroom calmer by practising these techniques all year round. You won’t be sorry and your league tables, as well as your children, will be happier and healthier as a result!