Tests and more tests (and exams):helping children cope

Secondary colleagues just go here to find a fabulous presentation for parents about exam stress, http://sealcommunity.org/member-resource/fabulous-presentation and here for work with young people themselves http://sealcommunity.org/member-resource/exam-stress-lessons-and-tutor-g...

There’s less about for primary children, so we’ve put these ideas together, prompted by a Year 5 grandson who wrote this comment in his maths book about a maths test ‘I crack under pressure during tests’.

Step 1 Start early

It’s no good just doing a lesson on stress a few weeks before a test. Months before, work with the children on  Worries and how to deal with them  How to know when you are stressed and panicky  Relaxation techniques  Stress and the stress curve

Step 2 Work on worries

Use ‘The Lion Inside as a starter’- see the ‘Tests and more tests’ slides below

Check out the national SEAL ‘Good to be me’ booklets. Click on Find SEAL resources at the top, then National Resources (free), then in the Resource Browser on the right hand side find Theme then under it Good to be Me. The English resources may be several pages on, after the Welsh resources.

There is work on worries for all age groups- the ‘Tests and more tests’ slides show you some of this, like Y3 and 4 work (but could also be Y5/6) on worries that might happen/are unlikely to happen, and worries you can/can’t do something about. Children listen to a ‘What If..’ poem, note down the worries and add some of their own, then discuss in groups which category to put each worry in. For the worries that are likely to happen and you can do something about (like tests!) they have to make suggestions on what they could do. For the ones that are likely to happen and they can’t do anything about, they discuss whether there is anyone they could ask to help them. The slides also show some follow-on Y5/6 SEAL Good to be Me work on Wormwart’s cure for worries. T

Then the slides show some books on worries to share. Big Bad Bubble tells the story of how to the monsters of La La Land a fragile, shimmering bubble is an object of terror, and when the frightening habits of bubbles are detailed by a fear-mongering monster, Yerbert, Froofle and Wumpus run away and cry. But with encouragement from the narrator and from readers the three learn to confront their fears and triumph over the bubbles! A nice activity based on the book involves an older primary class buddying with a younger one - Reception or Y1. The older children read Big Bad Bubble and create a book about their childhood fears. Then they share the story with the buddy class and the older class help the younger students write their own pages for the book.

You could read Silly Billy up to p9 of text “We won’t let anything hurt you”. Give children the opportunity to share their worries. Have a circle time “I sometimes worry when…” Children must be allowed to say, “Pass” if they do not want to speak. Talk about how if we share our worries we can often sort them out. Ask if they can predict how Billy will sort out his worries. Read the rest of the story and show a set of worry dolls. Was Billy really silly? No, lots of people worry, even grownups and even teachers! Why did Billy find it easier to share his worries with the worry dolls? What would the worry dolls say to Billy if they could talk? Model a conversation with a confident child where you take the role of Billy and the child the worry doll. Talk about being a good listener (eye contact, nods, not interrupting etc.). Sitting opposite each other in pairs, have children act out a conversation with one child taking the role of Billy and one a worry doll listener. Practice the conversation a couple of times. After sharing the book children could make their own worry dolls- https://www.themaven.net/kidsactivities/kidsactivities/silly-billy-book-... , and www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A9914862

Step 3 How to know when you are stressed and panicky

It’s good to work on Zones of Regulation, which help children recognise four zones and learn to recognise which one they are in at any given time. There are a few slides on this in the ‘Tests and more tests ‘slides but follow this link for a series of lessons to introduce the idea to a class http://learninginroom122.blogspot.com/2017/11/self-regulation-in-room-12...

Step 4 Teach relaxation techniques The SEAL theme Good to be Me has lots on relaxation and stress management, but in particular look at the Year 2 work in which children undertake relaxation, breathing and visualisation exercises. Also look for Small Group Work on www.sealcommunity.org Category • Primary (206) • Secondary (65) • Professional development / teacher guidance (32) • Small group work (29) • Family (23) • Early Years (20) Here you will find the Silver Set Y1 and 2 which has lovely relaxation activities, like ‘melting in the sun’.

The ‘Tests and more tests’ slides show different ways of teaching deep, relaxed breathing. Belly buddies is for littlies – they all have a soft toy ( their belly buddy) which they place on their tummies; they then practice slow abdominal breathing in and out so as to see the belly buddy go up and down. The Pinwheel picture is about breathing in deeply, then breathing out so as to make the wheel go round.

In ‘Hot chocolate breathing’ you pretend to hold your cup of hot chocolate in both hands in front of you. Breathe in deeply the smell of the chocolate. And then blow out to cool it down so you can drink it. Do this to the count of five. Then have the children copy you. It’s good to tell them that if they do this kind of slow, deep breathing from their stomachs when they feel tense or anxious, it tricks their mind into thinking there’s no danger and everything is Ok. Then they will automatically feel calmer. Showing them this You Tube clip can help- https://youtu.be/RVA2N6tX2cg

For older children you can use hand signals. The hand signals are as follows: palms up to breathe in, palms out to hold the breath, palms down to breathe out slowly. Try doing about five total breaths on a regular basis. Another good one is square breathing. You will need small squares of paper (post-its work well too). Start with the bottom left corner and trace your finger along the side going up. While doing this take in a deep breath. Then move your finger (from top left corner) to the top right corner. This represents holding the breath for four seconds. Bring your finger down (from the top right corner) to the bottom right corner. As you do this, slowly exhale. Finally bring your finger along the bottom edge of the square to your starting corner. This represents holding in between breaths for four seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.

Children will enjoy and learn from this great film about mindful breathing https://www.mindfulschools.org/news/just-breathe-julie-bayer-salzman/

The slides also have links to a good Sesame Street film for all ages about imagining ‘a safe place’ you can go to whenever you are stressed and anxious.

Step 5 Have a lesson about stress

The Tests and more tests slides are the basis for a short lesson about stress and what is called the ‘stress curve’- a little bit of stress helps performance, but not too much.

Step 6 Talk about tests Finally, as the tests approach, use the slides to link the stress curve to test anxiety. A little bit helps us be on the ball and focused in a test, but if we are too anxious we may ‘crack under pressure’. Get the children to say how that feels – mind goes blank, heart beats very quickly, sweating etc. Link to the work on Zones of Regulation; we don’t want to be in the Blue zone – we won’t feel energetic and focused. If we are there we need to energise ourselves a bit, by having a wriggle and telling ourselves that this test is important, and why. We may be a bit worried and in the Amber zone- time to take action to stop us getting into the panic (Red) Zone. Or we may already be in Red. So... we need to press the reset button, do our breathing, go to our safe place in our minds, or do another relaxation exercise like imagining ourselves melting in the sun.

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