Ask the Teacher: Test Anxiety

Ask the Teacher is a monthly column from our magazine, written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four who holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Deb has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at [email protected].                        

My eighthgrade son claims he never has any homework, saying he has completed everything at school. I am concerned that he is going to have a rude awakening when he gets to high school. Should I be worried?  

In an education era of project-based learning and passion-driven projects, there has been a marked shift in what many students are expected to learn and the way they are expected to learn it. The emphasis of learning has largely become process-oriented: deep research, collaboration and product development. 

Your son will likely see a continuation of this approach in high school, but more emphasis will be placed on content mastery as well. To help prepare for this transition, engage your son in active reflection on what he is working on at school. Ask him to discuss the topics and content behind the projects. What “big ideas” is he forming based on what he has learned? What people has he learned about and how have they impacted the world around them? What historical events has he studied and what effects do these events continue to have today? What has he learned from the projects others have done? Ask for his observations about the projects he has participated in. How has he made the greatest contribution? What aspects of collaboration are a struggle for him? What have others contributed that has impressed him? 

This facet of a project-driven learning environment can be overlooked or under-emphasized in the classroom in the interest of time. By encouraging this conversation with your son, his understanding will be deepened by drawing conclusions and making important inferences about his learning. (And don’t let him off the hook with simplistic answers!) 

Every time our fifth gradedaughter has a test or a quiz, she freaks out. She is convinced she can’t learn the material, and we spend a lot of time trying to calm her down rather than studying. What can we do to help lessen this stress for her?  

Learning to prepare and take tests is a process, and there are many ways to help the process go smoothly. The most important hurdle is to understand that completing daily tasks and assignments is only one piece of the learning puzzle. Beyond homework, require your daughter to spend 15-20 minutes each night studying – even if there is not a test scheduled.  

Rather than focusing only on what must be turned in, your daughter should review what she is learning every single day. For each subject area, she should re-read her notes, skim the summary section at the end of text chapters and/or practice a problem. It is important that she notes what may be confusing her and ask for clarification as soon as possible.  

A quick daily review will build understanding and develop a stronger connection to the content. Doing something as simple as making flashcards of key concepts as she goes through a chapter or doing a bulleted summary will not only deepen her comprehension and solidify her understanding of what she is learning, but it will also ease tensions when a test is announced. 

Asking the teacher questions is such a problem for my second grader. She just refuses to let the teacher know when she does not understand something. Should I contact the teacher with the questions she has? 

Being able to ask for help is a lifelong skill that every child must learn, so it is important to find a way for your daughter to do this independently.  

Begin by helping your daughter identify what she does not understand. Often not knowing what to ask is the biggest obstacle when going to the teacher. Is it the directions, or a vocabulary word, or the order in which steps are to be taken? Have your daughter write down her question.  

Talk with your daughter about how she should select a good time to approach the teacher. Remind her not to interrupt her during a lesson or when she is working with another student.  

Role-play the actual asking of a question, with you taking the role of the teacher. Emphasize respectful word choice and tone of voice when asking so that the question does not sound like an accusation or a demand. Sometimes the tension the student feels in this situation can result in an attitude or tone that sounds disrespectful. Reiterate that the teacher is there to help your daughter learn, and specifically to answer questions when she does not understand.  


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