It is a regular fact of life in today’s public school classroom. One of the great challenges I found when I was a classroom teacher during testing was fatigue. We want our students motivated, alert and focused. Also, we want them feeling good about themselves and relaxed enough to do their best work. The arts have much to offer to have our students in the best frame of mind to perform most optimally on those tests, especially music and dance.
Try singing a song, and not feeling more awake and alert! If you’ve used the arts in your classroom, chances are good you have a perfect song for this occasion. It’s especially effective to use a song lending itself to changing dynamics (softer, louder) or changing tempos (faster and slower). This way, students have to be paying attention to you as you lead them. This keeps them sharp, and keep them from singing mindlessly while creating a fun, game-like atmosphere.
This can come in many forms. Yoga poses, singing dance games, stretching, brain gym, and freeze dance to name a few. Now may not be the best time to introduce something new, but it is a great time to use a favorite activity. Songs that include body movement are always great. Freeze dancing is easy to do without having to move furniture. It also creates that game atmosphere I talked about with the singing, where students get to move as they choose. But, they need to be on their toes to be ready for the “freeze.” (I usually only have students sit for one round if they get “out” since the purpose is for them to move!)
Also, you can give instructions during freeze dance to be sure they are really moving. For instance, dance up as high as you can, dance at a low level, stretch as many parts of your body as you can, do a dance move that crosses the midline, dance as fast as you can, dance in slow motion, etc.
A colleague of mine created a “Ready to Learn” dance. It consisted of a chant naming 6 key behaviors with accompanying gestures. I used it with some of my dance students. Some of the schools used the “Ready to Learn” dance as a way to prepare students before they sit down to take benchmark tests. Students can start using the chant with the movements, and then change to just the movements transitioning the students to silence for testing.
My last tip under “moving” isn’t about moving at all but about power posing.
There is a fascinating TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist. She explains that before you place yourself in an evaluative situation, you can raise the testosterone (relates to feeling powerful) and lower the cortisol levels (relates to stress) in your brain simply by holding one of several power poses (think Superman) for 2 minutes. I have never tried it myself, but her talk gives compelling evidence. It may help students perform optimally, especially those who enter testing situations lacking confidence in their abilities. Her tag line is, “Don’t fake it ‘til you make it, fake it ‘til you become it.” While her talk focuses on social evaluative situations like job interviews, it stands to reason that having higher testosterone levels and lower cortisol levels in a testing situation can only be beneficial.
So, as you and your students enter testing time periods in your school year, remember the arts and let them help your students achieve greater success.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.