Monday, November 14, 2011

Test Anxiety

Test anxiety has been studied in a formal manner since the 1950s.  According to Kids' Health, text anxiety is a performance anxiety...a feeling someone might have in a situation where performance really counts or when the pressure is on to do well (D'Arcy Lyness, 2010).  Test anxiety can manifest itself in a number of symptoms, including butterflies in your stomach, headaches, nausea, physical shaking, and even such a high level of fear that you can't get your stress under control and feel like you are going to pass out.  Performance anxiety does not just impact those students who are taking a formal exam.  Since test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, other situations that can cause performance anxiety include trying out for the play, pitching in a big baseball game, trying out for the honor choir, singing the national anthem at the football game, or even going into an important interview.  In all of these situations, performance expectations are high.  Not every situation will cause the same reaction in any two people. 

Anxiety is caused by a reaction to something stressful.  Some students get stressed out when they know they are up against a time limit on a test or speech.  Some stress can come from focusing what a person does not know rather than what a person does know for an upcoming test.  Once a stressful situation has been identified, you body releases adrenaline which is responsible for your body's "fight or flight" response.  This is the response in your body that prepares you for danger.  This adrenaline is also what causes your physical reactions (noted above).

Test anxiety (performance anxiety) is normal at some time for everyone.  The trick is recognizing the anxiety and having a plan to work through it.  The person who cannot work through the situation causing the anxiety is bound to continue to experience the levels of stress repeatedly.  Try to use your stress to your advantage.  According to the same article in Kids' Health, stress can be used to warn you of upcomimg important events, like a test or an important assignment.  Use this stress to keep you on task in the completion of or preparation for such an event.  Believe it or not, advance preparation can help reduce stress.  It increass your confidence which can reduce your stress.  Also, some anxiety can help promote better study habits.  People who cram for tests have a much higher level of anxiety than those who have prepared in steps or increments.  Filling your mind with information at a steady pace rather than stuffing it full all at one time is definitely a way to reduce stress and anxiety.  Thinking positive thoughts is also productive in reducing anxiety.  Rather than sending yourself negative thoughts, such as "I never do well on essay and that is a large part of this test" try being positive by stating things, such as "I know this material because I've studied" or "I will take my time and do the best I can."  Another way to help reduce anxiety is to take care of yourself.  Get plenty of sleep.  Eat something light and healthy before a test.  Write down the outcome you want and expect and visualize that outcome.  This is a practice that many great athletes do.  It works.  See yourself doing well on a test (or in a performance situation) and accomplishing the desired outcome. 

Anxiety affects everyone in some way or another.  Many famous people have admitted to being scared to death to go out on stage to perform.  The key is to working to determine what causes the stress and then putting steps into place to help reduce it. 

Lyness, D'Arcy, PhD.  Kids' Health, July, 2010

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dealing with Plagiarism

The word "plagiarism" is a very serious word.  It is often used to instill fear in someone, and while it is definitely a concept that can reap some devastating consequences, I propose that if our children were educated about what it is and why it happens, those who serve our children in the educational arena would find some relief in their efforts to "catch" kids engaged in the act.  In the book Plagiarism, by Barry Gilmore, the author indicates that many students think plagiarism is only "copying an entire essay and handing it in as one's own."  The term, however, refers to the act done when a person, adult or student, "appropriates any material---ideas, writings, images, or any portion of those--- and claiming to be the original creator" (Plagiarism, p. 2). 

Plagiarism is easier now, more than ever, to commit because of the access to technology and the ignorance of how to use it in our educational ventures.  Throughout history, plagiarism has been an issue.  People, from Helen Keller to Joe Biden, have been accused and taken to task for allegedly taking credit for the originality of someone else's work.  As easy as it is to commit, today, it is not as clear cut when determining if someone has plagiarized. To toss words, like "academic integrity" into a student handbook and not take great pains to help all people understand the nuances associated with those words could be considered a practice that is educational unsound.  After all, to expect our children to simply not cheat seems naive.  We teach our children to take advantage of all the available resources to help them be successful in school and in professional careers.  It is especially critical that we, then, help guide them in their "digital literacy" and tie this into discussions about academic integrity and professionalism.

In order to help our children understand that plagiarism is a mistake, that can result in various consequences, we must, as parents and teachers, help them understand what it is, why it is not acceptable, and how to not put oneself in a position where it seems like the only option.  It is my strong belief that cheating-free classrooms are the direct result of relationships between teacher and students that are personal and transparent. 

The role of parents is of particular importance in reducing the incidents of plagiarism.  Parents know how high the stakes are of securing money for college, through scholarship searches, and even the need for high grades in high school.  Parents who might never condone cheating, when backed into a corner, may vehemently defend a child against the possibility of a failing grade.  Schools must invite parents into the educational experience as partners.  A course syllabus warning parents about the penalty of plagiarism is not enough.  Parents need to expect that schools will do the following in order to support their efforts to support their children:

1.  Provide, at back to school nights or conferences, handouts or websites that demonstrate the problems some students have with cutting and pasting, citations, and paraphrasing.
2.  Demonstrate, at an evening activity as noted in #1, for parents proper and improper Internet sources, search techniques, and attribution.
3.  Give parents some pointers for checking the work of their own children.
4.  Make sure the respective classroom policy on cheating aligns with the district policy so parents see a consistency in efforts to support students.
5.  Schools will inform the parents of what  the communication chain is when dealing with suspected cases of plagiarism.  There is nothing to be gained, but distrust and hard feelings, when a case is dealt with so quickly that it does not allow the student a chance to explain what his/her case is to the teacher or administrator.

These are just a handful of ways partnerships can be formed between schools and parents in efforts to establish a climate based on the education of students rather than the punishment of them.

Source Cited:
Gilmore, Barry.  Plagiarism.  Heinemann Publishing. New Hampshire. 2008.