Recently on Twitter, we learned about fourth-grade teacher Courtney Dickerson’s unique approach to getting kids excited about growth testing: the MAP Testing Fairy. With encouragement, the right incentives, and a little bit of magic, the MAP Testing Fairy transformed the assessment experience for her students—who went from dreading testing day to writing letters to the MAP Testing Fairy about their own goals.
The MAP Testing Fairy was so inspiring, we reached out to Ms. Dickerson to hear more. Here’s what she had to say.
How did “the MAP Testing Fairy” come about? What inspired you?
Initially, I tried to use school-wide incentives, which worked, to a degree. But I could see that my students dreaded MAP Growth testing, and they seemed very down whenever we had to do it.
I wanted to do something more to show them that they should care about MAP Growth testing, and I wanted them to be excited to demonstrate all of their knowledge. My students needed help seeing their own growth!
How did the program get started, and how did the kids respond to the MAP Testing Fairy at first?
At the end of our first round of MAP testing in the Fall, I threw confetti everywhere, and hung up a golden curtain over the door that students would walk through. I then wrote a quick note on the whiteboard signed as “The MAP Testing Fairy.” The idea was to create a mascot for celebrating growth, and make it a special occasion.
I had no idea my students would attach themselves to this mythical creature! They were overwhelmed with excitement and pride when they walked in and saw that the MAP Testing Fairy had visited our room.
From then on, I knew that I had to make the MAP Testing Fairy a big part of testing. However, my students were incredibly observant, and they started analyzing the handwriting on the board, and they eventually asked for handwriting samples to compare with the MAP Testing Fairy. Talk about engagement! This led me to ask several different teachers to write on the board for me—so the handwriting was constantly changing.
For subsequent MAP Growth assessments, I would mention the MAP Testing Fairy, and remind students that she only comes to our room if we all work hard to show growth. That got them motivated! They began looking forward to MAP testing. They started asking things like, “How much longer ‘til our next round of testing?”, or showing me their regular schoolwork and saying, “This is going to help me on my MAP test.”
What impact did the MAP Testing Fairy have on your classroom's culture?
My favorite example of how the MAP Testing Fairy has changed my students’ mindset is the day they made it all interactive. The MAP Testing Fairy had left a note for the class on the board, and my students immediately declared that they wanted to say something to her themselves, so we wrote a note to her as a class. Then they said we should each write her individual notes! One of the notes said on it, “Dear MAP Testing Fairy, I was close to meeting my goal, only two points away! But I am very proud of myself.”
This was when I knew that the culture of MAP Growth testing in my classroom had officially changed. A portion of my students did make their goals, but the other portion didn’t—but they weren’t sad. They were optimistic for the next round. They didn’t view this round of MAP Growth testing as a failure; instead, they took it as a sign that they had grown in their knowledge, and they were proud of themselves for that.
And then they began holding one another accountable, reminding each other that it’s okay to make mistakes in learning, but it’s not okay to give up in learning. Suddenly, we became a team, all working towards growing our knowledge to prove that we are capable and that we can reach our goals—together.
How have other teachers helped with the MAP Testing Fairy? Has the MAP Testing Fairy had an impact on how other teachers approach MAP Growth or student growth in general?
When I started recruiting other teachers to write on the board and disguise the MAP Testing Fairy’s identity, it gave me the chance to share what I was doing. I started talking with other teachers about the impact the MAP Testing Fairy was having, and I think it got my colleagues thinking about their own creative strategies for getting their kids engaged. Other teachers on my 4th grade team have started to introduce the MAP Testing Fairy in their classrooms as well, so I’m really excited to know the idea is spreading.
What advice would you give to other teachers looking to get their students excited about growth?
I would highly encourage teachers to think back to when we had to take big assessments as children. It was hard, sitting quietly for an extensive amount of time, answering all sorts of questions. As a child, I never understood why I had to take such a lengthy test or how important it was. I didn’t understand, so I wouldn’t take my time on the test... I just wanted it over.
That’s what I saw in my students. They didn’t understand why they had to take MAP Growth; they wanted it to be over just like I did when I was their age. My goal in all of this was to make MAP Growth testing meaningful to them in a way that they had never experienced before. I set out to change their minds from wanting it over to wanting to grow.
So, I encourage and challenge my fellow teachers to remember that it’s hard for students to understand why growth assessments are so important, and to find fun ways that speak to them to get them invested in their own progress. The MAP Testing Fairy gives students a chance to celebrate, and for my class, that’s what they needed in order to get invested in their own growth. You know your students best, so find ways to get them motivated that speak to their sense of fun and wonder. It can make all the difference.