The Chicken Direction

On each of my unit tests (which are rare), I place a direction buried in the text of the explanation. It usually looks something like this:

Who is the protagonist in this story? Who is the antagonist? You do not need to write in full sentences for this one, but you must include enough details to make sure your answer is clear and well-supported. Stand up and squawk like a chicken for an extra bonus point.

The primary reason is to test– and ensure– how well my students are actually reading the exam directions.


“Thank you, Alicia.”

Some quizzical looks. But the silence floods back in almost immediately. We have a test to take, after all.


“Thank you, Terry. ”

“HUH?” the class surfaces collectively now, confused.

‘What was that all about?” James understands that I don’t always run things conventionally in here, but he’s a stickler for rules, particularly during high-stakes assessments.

Which is the other reason this technique works– to convey the message that this is NOT high stakes. This is not yet another in the ever increasing line and ever more ridiculous history of ill-developed, inauthentic, anxiety-driven instruments for collecting “data”. It is simply what it is– a test.  You show me what you’ve got. Afterwards, if needed, I help you further in getting it. That’s all.

“SQUAWK.” Jenna adds flapping wings to her imitation.  (A bonus of this technique is also encouraging kids to act independently on their knowledge, when convention and peer pressure give the message to do otherwise.)

“Thank you, Jenna.”

Laughter is now rippling full scale through the room, but James and a couple of other stressed kids don’t like it at all. “Why is this happening?” James complains. “An excellent question,” I muse aloud, and say no more.

But I’m not off the hook. Conversation is rising unexpectedly about whether to “squawk,” “bawk,” or “cockle doodle do.”

“I’m getting distracted,”  another girl says, and I have to smile at having the school lingo salvo.

“All right,” I acquiesce. “Number one: this is happening for a reason.”

“WHY?” James howls.

“I am not at liberty to say. Second, I do want to honor those kids who feel like they can’t concentrate. So please, when you are ready, come up to me and very quietly give me your chicken squawk.”

“You’re being antagonists,” James mutters, which tells me more than the exam does about how well he has absorbed the material.

The giggling finally subsides– until James hits the direction.

“OH,” he exclaims.

And we all bust out, James included, one last time.






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