New Teacher Toolbox: 4 Creative Ideas for Planning Engaging Lessons after Standardized Testing

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After the pressure of state testing, those days between the end of your testing window and the end of the year can feel like a big exhale. When testing is over, teachers are like big kids who were let out of their cages. Have fun with this time! 

It can be difficult and taxing to plan an adventurous unit of study when you’re prepping your students and your classroom for testing. Make sure to at least outline your plans for post-testing activities well before the testing window opens at your school. If you’re a teacher who likes using school breaks for planning, the long week or so of winter break is a great time to research standards, find community experts to support the learning, and to plan the activities that will support the standards. Some schools will provide teachers with sub days for planning, or you can pick a week to strategically plan for the “distant” future instead of planning for the following week’s lessons. 

However you do it, carving out some time to authentically plan for post-testing learning days is the first step. The next step is to brainstorm ideas for using the time wisely and creatively. Inspiration can come from your colleagues (who has been doing an innovative unit of learning that you’re dying to try?), professional publications (like NSTA or NCTM), or an engaging documentary you streamed. 

Here are some ideas to get your started in planning your post-testing time:

  1. Go cross-curricular. Yes, I’m the pied piper of cross-curricular learning. I come by it honestly; I’ve known this is the best way to teach for over a decade! When I was teaching in Germany several years ago, I became inspired by the country’s history and our natural surroundings. While reading traditional stories from Andrew Lang’s Fairy Book series to my own child, it occurred to me that I was living in one of the birthplaces of fairy tales. Around the same time, I discovered we had a forgotten nature classroom on our elementary campus.  When those two ideas intersected, a cross-curricular lesson idea was born! While my student teacher gradually took over the classroom, I started to feverishly plan and brainstorm a fairy tale unit for my fourth graders that would intersect learning about our local ecosystem, German history, and literature. At the time I was teaching with a cohort of teachers and we rotated our language arts classes by flexible groupings based on students’ reading levels. When planning, I differentiated all of the lessons with the goal that all three classes would create a guide to our nature classroom written by kids. The idea was not a hit with my reasonably exhausted peers, so the cross-curricular lesson didn’t take off.  What can you learn from my story? Finding ways to authentically intersect your standards in a creative way is a perfect use of your post-testing time—if you can get all of the parties involved on board!
  2. Get out! I can’t think of a better time for field work (not field trips) or outside learning than after testing. Plan that trip to the museum or a local historical site. Get those permission slips signed and march your students over to a local park for lessons. Yes, weather can be unpredictable in the spring but no students ever melted from a little rain!
  3. Read, read, read. One of my favorite books when I was teaching elementary was The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Any middle school content area teacher can plan to read a fiction or non-fiction text related to the curriculum. Miller’s book inspired me to teach students to love books-and reading. Do a science themed literature circle unit. Pick a historical fiction book to connect to your social studies content. Surprise your students by making engaging reading an important part of your end-of-year tradition.
  4. Collaborate. If you are an elementary teacher, plan a cross-curricular unit with the art teacher. Social studies and language arts teachers, finally find the time to work on a unit that touches on both of your standards. You have the time, now make the connection!

The end of the school year can be invigorating without burning you out if you plan ahead thoughtfully. Try a creative and engaging unit after testing this year!

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