The SATs

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: The SATs

As the big day draws near, how can we possibly be creative about SATs week? For both statutory and non-statutory classes, the taking of tests will bring anxiety, frustration and worry. The kids could be having a hard time, too.

There's no point telling pupils that Sats aren't important, don't really matter and that they'll forget about it once it's all over, however true that may be. "It's not like it was when I was at school," I used to say to my class. "When I had to take my 11-plus, it decided which school I went to. I passed, my friend Peter Morley didn't and we hardly ever saw each other again!"

The problem is the message we've been giving our class with our bodies, tone and time. They will believe SATs are important and that they count - for this week at least. If that's the case, what can be done to creatively manage this experience? Well, if the week has something to offer, perhaps it's in experiencing those "make-or break" times that are a part of life.

There will be more exams, then interviews and career decisions in the years to come. If the consequences of these tests aren't significant, then the way they handle them could be. If anxiety begins in Year 2 and accumulates through the years, we're missing the chance to develop pupil self-awareness in stressful times and the ability that comes with it to manage emotions successfully.

During SATs week, as well as the weeks before and after, I ask my class to keep a diary. Depending on the age of the pupil, the format varies from a picture, which ranges from a smiley to a sad face, to a diary-style entry for older pupils, which is also great for revising that diary text type.

Introducing this acknowledges and validates pupils' emotions, showing that this is a group experience, not something they have to deal with by themselves. Those who feel fine about the whole thing, even if they shouldn't, can write what they observe and think about the experience of others. You could go hi-tech and get some of the class to make video diaries. If you limit each entry to 30 seconds, you could have a pupil's three-week experience of before, during and after condensed into an emotional rollercoaster lasting several minutes.

The bonus is felt by all parties the following year. Pupils can read back on their feelings as they experience them again and teachers can use those reflections to help ease the next lot through. To be able to read an entry that begins: "This is the worse thing ever!" to a class and explain that this was how someone in their shoes felt last year, affirms feelings, particularly when the same person wrote the week after: "They weren't that big a deal after all. What was all the fuss about?" The jury's still out on that one.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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