Posts Tagged ‘#evaluatethat’

So you think we’re exaggerating?


Dear Standardized Testing supporters,

I am writing this post after having spent the past two days administering the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System- Math, Grade 5.

I have a few little anecdotes and insights for you folks, given that you believe all this testing is actually useful.

Let me give you a very brief description of the absurdities of the educational testing world.  If you still believe that High Stakes testing is good for anyone who spends his/her day in a school, then you are either delusion of on the Pearson Payroll.

Scene 1.   As a public school teacher in my state, I had to participate in an “MCAS Security Training Session.”  I had to watch a Powerpoint presentation, and then sign my name on a document swearing that I had watched the presentation.

Scene 2.  On Day 1 of the testing, every teacher who was giving the test was required to come to the school office to pick up our materials.  Materials were available for pickup from 8:45 to 9:00 AM.   All 18 of us showed up in the office right on time.

Scene 3: Before we were allowed to take our Boxes of Test Materials, every teacher had to count every test booklet, answer booklet, MCAS Approved Reference Sheet and “any additional materials”.  We then had to sign a document where we recorded our counts. Then an office staff member had to repeat the process and write the same numbers, and sign.    This took a long time. To say the least.

Scene 4: We read the directions.  We are instructed to tell the children that the test session is scheduled to last for two hours, but that they will be given as much time as they need, up until the end of the school day.

Scene 5: We tell the children, our sweet, trusting eleven year old kids, that “cheating in any form is forbidden”.  We tell them that they are not allowed to use cell phones, game consoles, music players (?) or any other electronic devices.  We tell them that they can’t use scrap paper, but they can scribble all over their test booklets.

Scene 6: The test has begun.  A very bright, hardworking student raises her hand.  I signal for her to come to my desk.  She does not recognize one of the many words that mathematicians use for “number”.   I am forced to give the scripted and MCAS approved answer.  “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you what it means.  Use your best judgement.”

Scene 7: My wonderful, smart, exceptional Chinese student, who started the year with exactly one phrase of English is working very hard at her desk.  Uh, oh.  I notice that she is using her everyday Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher.  She is supposed to be using the MCAS Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher!  This could be a violation!  I hurry to her desk and crouch beside her.  Her beautiful dark eyes rise to meet mine. I can see by the flush in her cheeks that she is anxious.

“Honey,” I say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t use this dictionary.  You have to use THIS one.”   She frowned a bit.  “But this book doesn’t has the math words.  THIS book has.”                                                       “Yes, I know.” I say, “But you have to use this one.” I hold up the everyday dictionary.  The one with no academic vocabulary.

My student frowns harder.  She is a very diligent student.    She holds up the forbidden dictionary, given to her on the first day of school by her English Language teacher.

“This book has math words.  THIS book,” she holds up the official MCAS Approved dictionary, “THIS book no has this important words.”

My heart sinks.  “I know,” I say, as I take the forbidden dictionary away from her.

Scene 8: The room is silent.  22 kids have completed the test.   One is still working.  I have to keep the 22 silently in their seats, reading books.  No talking.  No walking around the room. No pulling out your unfinished work.  No writing in your journal. No drawing or sketching or painting.  Why not? No one can tell me.  This goes on for nearly an hour.

Scene 9:  My colleague and close friend texts me in the middle of the test.  Her husband has been taken to the hospital with chest pain!  She isn’t sure what to do!  The MCAS Security training has told her that she can’t leave the room while the kids are working.  But she wants to go to see her husband!! Luckily, our fifth grade assistant is in my room!  She has worked for this school for almost 25 years. She has subbed for us all, she has taught small groups, she has come on a hundred field trips.  She offers to stay in the classroom while the kids finish the test.  “Sorry”, she is told. “You haven’t taken the Security Training.  You haven’t signed the papers.”  She cannot monitor the test.  My friend and her husband must both wait.

Stay tuned for tomorrows set of “Scenes from an Insane Asylum”.  They are even crazier.

This Old Teacher


Sometimes it gets a little bit tiring to be an old teacher. Sometimes you look at the pile of math papers, the writers’ notebooks, the science journals, the 57 emails, the field trip forms, the Puberty Movie letters and the Lost and Found socks, and you just want to give it all up and go sit on a beach in a muumuu.

Sometimes it just seems so futile. And relentless. And so incredibly frustrating. You think you’re done.  You can’t go on.

But sometimes you get to work, and you see your colleagues.  And you look at how much energy they still have. You see the one who is really excited by a new art project, and you remember when you used to feel that way. You see the one who is carefully planning an amazing science lesson, and you feel a little buzz of excitement.

Sometimes you get to school, and you peek into the classroom next door, where the colleague-who-is-younger-than-your-children is getting ready for her day.  And you look at her for a minute.  You see her bright spirit, her love of learning, her crackling joyful energy.

And you feel a little bit renewed.

Sometimes, just when you feel like all of this hard work is a big farce and nothing much is going to change for anyone, you spend a few minutes listening to your young team-mates as they plan the next writing unit.  And you smile inside, thinking of what a huge difference these two will make in the lives of dozens and dozens of kids in the future. And you give yourself a tiny little hug, way down in your heart, because you know that you are watching two teachers, two honest-to-God teachers, as they spin the silken spider web threads that will weave themselves into a love of learning for the little ones in these classrooms.  And you’re happy just to be there, watching. And you remind yourself of all the faces and names and hearts that you have touched over all these years.

And you realize that it doesn’t really matter which curriculum is used in which year. It really doesn’t matter if you teach the 6 + 1 traits or the Lucy Calkins kit or the “Write Out Loud” book.  As long as you love the kids, and share your joy and passion with them, as long as you keep telling them that you believe in them, they WILL learn to write.  And read. And calculate those damn fractions.

And you understand that the art of teaching is just that: it is an art.  Just like children, it cannot be measured or quantified or reduced to a data point. Teaching is an art.

And you are pleased with yourself, because you understand that fact.

Even if those in positions of power don’t.

Teaching is an art.  And you suddenly realize how lucky you are to be one of the artists, and to be in the presence of the artists who will both follow and surpass you.

 

Boxed Set Teaching


Oh, holy professional development………

Why is it that every teacher on earth is subjected to “professional development”, no matter how developed that professional might be?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of continually growing and learning.  I love the idea of talking to other professionals in order to shape our craft.  But when it becomes necessary to subject us to unbelievably chirpy “facilitators” who are crammed full of buzzwords, I just kind of want to scream.

I have spent the past two mornings with just such a cheery little woman. This person actually referred to us (on numerous occasions) as “beautiful teachers” or “lovely ladies”.   Gag me.

This woman, the hired representative of a major University and the Co-Author of a big old shiny boxed set of literacy lessons, actually used words like “noticings” and “wonderings”.  As in, “Wow, Beautiful Teachers, those are some powerful noticings!”     In normal human-speak, this mean, “Hey, good observation.”

This woman, who came to teach us how to implement the big old shiny boxed set of lessons that her university is marketing, used phrases like, “Good morning, beautiful readers! Today we are going to learn how to use text structure to enhance our reading work!” She said things like, “We can use our jottings to help us to hold onto the new learning that the text has shown us.”

WTF.

I am NOT going to start speaking to my fifth graders this way.  No Way. Uh-Uh, ain’t happening.

The number of eye rolls that happened during her lesson would have derailed any teacher who was, you know, actually listening to the kids.

Luckily, that was not the case with our “professional developer”.  She had her eyes on the prize (ie, selling more updated shiny boxed sets) and so she gamely plowed on.

“As we do our reading work, let’s focus on enhancing our noticings of the ideas that the text is teaching us, so that we can hold onto our new knowledge!”

OK.  Let me just say this about that.

I have loved to read since the morning when I was four, and I worked out the word “m-i-l-k” on the carton. At no point in the past 54 years have I ever noticed my “noticings”.  Nor have I ever tuned into the “story arc” or the “author’s purpose” or the “text structures”.  Even so, I have managed to earn a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree.  And, most importantly, I love to read.

I. Love. To. Read.

For pleasure, for humor, for excitement, for information, for opinion, for escape.  For all of these reasons, I read.

I want my students to read for all the same reasons.  I want them to pick up a book and fall into the incredible world of the past, or the future, or an island far away or a dream or a magical kingdom or a football team or a romance or a small town with an orphan dog…….I don’t want them to stop their reading to identify the author’s purpose or to make text to text connections. I don’t want them to put down the greatest story of their lives to pick up a stack of sticky notes and do some “jottings”.

When did we decide that it is the height of teaching to reduce the most enjoyable and pleasurable parts of learning to cutesie little labels? Seriously? We want the kids to think about “jottings” that show their “noticings”?   What child in his or her right mind is going to want to read to learn when its all presented in this annoying, Pinterest-cute format?  What writer on earth would want to create in this environment?

Here is what I have “noticed”.  The people who so cheerily sell these programs are uniformly motivated by money. They write the shiny boxed sets, they train the rest of us in how to use them, they make money every time one of us orders the latest update on “mentor texts”.

What a pile of horse shit.  Teacher’s College of NYC, you will NEVER convince me that it is a good idea to teach a ten minute “mini-lesson” on a reading strategy that moves too fast for 80% of the kids in the room.  You will never convince me that as long as we assign a catchy name to something, the children will grasp it (“Jot Lot”? Seriously?)

I may be old, and I may be outdated. None of my beliefs will fit in a box. None of them have an adorable name.  But this old teacher lady will tell you this:

Children learn at different rates. They learn by doing, not by having an adorable teacher show them adorable charts. Children need time to think. They need time to wonder.  Children need time to process the strange new ideas that the teachers are teaching.  The vast majority of them need more than 5 minutes of teacher talk to understand a concept based in metalinguistics.

Children need to read for PLEASURE.  Otherwise, they will never read for pleasure.

So I sat through two days of incredibly expensive professional development where the cheery woman from Teacher’s College taught us all about the Reader’s Workshop Model.

And I came away with one firm conviction: I will NEVER try to teach 24 kids a meaningful strategy in less than ten minutes. I will never assume that all 24 of my kids can master a concept at the same time.

And I will never, ever, ever, for any reason, refer to the people in front of me as “beautiful readers”.

Gag.

End of Year Conferences


I have been at school for about 12 hours a day for the past week, engaging in end-of-year conferences.  At our school, we have the children lead the final conference. They review their portfolio, talk about how they have grown, reflect on the year.

It takes a long time to have a conference like this! Some of them last over an hour.  It’s fairly exhausting, because the kids are only eleven years old, and they need a good amount of prompting to be truly reflective.

It’s my favorite time of the year.  Want to know why?

Its because this is my chance to hear the children as they validate everything that I know to be true as a good teacher.

As we review the portfolios, and go over math tests and history essays and creative stories and science labs, the children talk about what they have learned.   I get to hear them echo back the important things that I have taught them.

And guess what?

Not a single child mentions the word “rubric” or the word “standard” or the word “rigor”.  They rarely mention any facts.  But here are some true quotes that I have heard in the last four days.  I promise, I am not editing.  These words are engraved on my heart; they have renewed me so that I can come back for another year in September.

“In math, I’ve learned that its OK when I don’t understand. If I could always get the answers right on the first try, then I wouldn’t really be learning anything.”

“I like that you taught us to think about history.  I’m going to be more careful about how I vote when I grow up, because you told us that we are the history of the future.”   (If I said that, I was far less eloquent than this little girl; still, she got my message!)

“At first, I didn’t ever raise my hand unless I was really sure, but now I know that good students make guesses.”

“I learned to ask questions. If I have a question, there are probably five other kids who have the same question!”

“I learned that science is fascinating, and I never knew that!”

“You told us that it’s more important to be kind than to be popular, but I think if you’re kind, then you are popular.”

“At the beginning of the year, I only had my few friends.  But now I have branched out and everyone in our class is friendly.”

All I can do is sit there and feel my heart swell.

And on an even more powerful note, the parents haven’t asked about class standing, grades, test scores or the rigor of the curriculum. Instead, they have thanked me for understanding their child, for seeing the positives, for being a fun and happy teacher.  Parents have hugged me, have shaken my hand, have told me that this is was a “wonderful year.”

I know that I’m bragging.  I know it, you’re right, its obnoxious.

But here’s the thing:

All of the conversations are showing me that I am RIGHT to put my energy and emphasis on social and intellectual growth and NOT on testing, scoring, measuring, collecting data and imposing false “rigor” on my lessons.  My administrator may not be thrilled with my old fashioned ways, but my kids are.

#evaluate that!

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