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Low-lift, High Impact Resources for Test Prep Season


Welcome to 2019!

As we return to our world of marker-stained hands and endless pads of chart paper, we can’t help but remember that they’re coming. Someone please cue the dramatic drum-roll. Yes, we have almost six months of instruction left and our school-wide attention has already shifted to preparing our students to absolutely crush their end-of-year exams. It’s common for schools to pivot their focus to major assessments, such as the state test, at the start of the second semester. As former teachers, we recognize how important it is to set students up for success. This is especially true if it’s the first year your third graders have ever faced a test of this magnitude. It’s scary!


But we all know that by devoting so much energy to test prep, we sacrifice developing other skills that are just as important.


Strong communication and collaboration skills are crucial for the lifelong success of our students.These relationship skills strengthen our students’ abilities to problem solve in teams, to productively disagree, and to listen deeply to and learn from their peers’ ideas. Strong relationship skills are also known to decrease disciplinary issues in the classroom--a win-win at this point in the year.


You may be thinking, “Of course I want my students to develop these skills, but I have no time!” We’ve been there and we understand. UsPlus is here to help teachers implement mindful, low-lift and high impact resources that develop these interpersonal competencies. We’ve done the research and the heavy-lifting for you, because your time is so precious. Below are brief descriptions of some skills and accompanying strategies that UsPlus teachers across the country have found most impactful. Commit 15 minutes this week to one of these three exercises and we guarantee you’ll see improved communication and collaboration skills in 2019.


Deep Listening

Why this matters: When students are deeply listening, they gain the confidence and skills needed to engage in meaningful conversations on their own. From casual conversations on the playground to heated debates about a text, it is essential that our students are able and prepared to listen to the voices of others.

What you can do: At the start of any academic block, start off with a class discussion. Prompt your students with a casual conversation starter, such as, “What did you do over break?” Then, with the help of another student, to interactively model what Deep Listening looks like. As your student-partner tells you about their break, model actions of a deep listener such as nodding, learning forward, keeping your body open, smiling to show you are understanding, and following along.

Make it a habit: Over the next few weeks, give students the chance to share stories and practice Deep Listening in pairs. Provide your students with a topic of discussion and facilitate the conversation by reminding students of the habits of a Deep Listener. Within a few weeks, your students will be ready to use their Deep Listening skills during academic activities. You can celebrate strong examples of Deep Listening by granting the “Listener of the Week” or allowing students to give shout-outs to their peers!


Grounding Relationships

Why this matters: Just as we focus on community-building at the start of the year, it’s important to stay committed to the work of deepening connections between students, especially after a long break! When our students develop strong and lasting class relationships and community the rigor of academic engagement increases.

What you can do: Find 15 minutes of downtime in your day such as morning meeting, the time after recess or when a lesson wraps up early. As a class community establish norms for whole and small group meetings. Use friendly, but clear norms such as: ‘one voice at a time’ or ‘equal sharing’. Start a discussion with a question such as, “what makes you feel welcomed?” Guide students through a discussion about their ideas and feelings.

Make it a habit: Over the next few months, continue to engage in discussions with your class in small and whole groups. Facilitate these discussions by guiding students through the norms and helping students take turns. Some sample discussion starters include:

When do you feel you are being listened to? How do you know?

How do you contribute to our school community?

Who helps you bounce back from setbacks?


Supporting Peers

Why it’s important: Test prep season is stressful! The stronger a classroom community, the more set up for success students will feel as they tackle the challenges ahead. One way to strengthen bonds within your community is by teaching students how to positively reinforce each other through Behavior-Specific Praise (BSP).

What you can do: BSP gives students specific feedback that indicates approval of social or academic effort behavior. The first time you introduce BSP should be during a class period so you can provide genuine and authentic feedback. Throughout the period, model giving BSP to students. It could sound like, “Kaylin, nice work asking your partner for feedback to help improve your problem-solving skills!” and “Travis, good job stepping forward during small-group time to share your thoughtful ideas!” Then facilitate a discussion during which students identify the components of BSP, how it made them feel, and how they plan to commit to reinforcing each other throughout the school day.

Make it a habit: Considering creating a spot in your classroom for students to post shout-outs to their peers. One idea is to decorate a bulletin board according to a specific classroom theme and to give each student a pad of sticky notes. Consider reviewing these shout-outs right before your test prep period (if that exists) in order to pump students up.


A bit more about us: At UsPlus we aim to empower students as advocates and change-makers. We envision a world in which all children are given the opportunity to develop the habits of a productive, respectful and effective communicators. We provide educators with 1:1 coaching and consultation with the UsPlus team, classroom resources covering skills such as deep listening, shared problem solving, and productive disagreement. Reach out to learn more!




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