Today, during prep, we started to get ready for our series of test days. Part of that work is to cover up all the walls, remove the tools, take down the anchor charts, and separate the desks. When children came back from special they looked around their room with gaping mouths and said: “What did you do?” It was explained to them that we are getting ready to take our state exams and that since it’s a test they would not be able to use any of their familiar tools, or charts. They murmured among themselves and promptly responded: “We use those to learn!” It was explained again that since this was a test, it was up to them to do the work on their own. Their response to this news was a strange combination of confusion and annoyance: “Well when are you going to put them back?”
As teachers we do our best to give children a toolbox of strategies whether they be abstract or concrete. We do this, so that children can have intellectual freedom to work with autonomy while still being productive as they progress towards their long term goals. There is a delicate shift in developmental readiness – and not every child arrives at the destination at the same time. These instructional bags we offer each child is carefully differentiated to meet the needs of the individual learner. We are not talking about different work we are talking about granting access to texts to all students – with the support they require at this one point in time.
It’s not that testing doesn’t have value. Assessment is part of how we set goals and meet the needs of our students. However, it is all our responsibility to be informed. Here is a sample that was released by EngageNY. This was intended for third graders to read and interpret Leo Tolstoy’s: The Gray Hare We leave it up to you to decide – is this a text a third grader should be able to read independently?
Work can be its own reward; and for this reason, we have to give students something worth the struggle of their labor. How do we nurture that work ethic? Are we providing openings for children to “dog” their own ideas – follow their curiosity and interests to a new level of knowing. As teachers, we are ethically bound to creating a classroom that is a genuine learning environment. A sacred space, that inspires creativity, and a culture that has high expectations for performance. That’s what we strive to do in life. How are we supporting children for real life? The classroom is not a bubble it should be a safe place to take risks so that when they are on their own they will be better prepared for success. Today we had a discussion with colleagues about test prepping, and that it is a “disservice to children” if we don’t give multiple choice and fill in responses ahead of test time. We strongly disagree. We believe that through an exercise like blogging children are able to make decisions and render their own interpretations whether it’s about character traits, or theme. We don’t believe that transfer happens without going through the process of discovery. Preparing students to think on higher levels begins in September – there is no quick fix for deep comprehension. At this point we are troubleshooting and tweaking our students’ performance based on their own level of developmental readiness – but always with high expectations for success.
We understand that a state test is a one time measure that is being used to evaluate us. The irony is as teachers retreat to prescribed “packets” to get kids “ready” to sit for the test – they are working at lower levels of Bloom. It requires less planning, less thought, less effort on the part of the teacher. Now is when we turn up the volume of our teaching – we are igniting the flames of curiosity not filling an empty vessel. We should all be dogging our ideas teachers and students alike – pursuing higher levels of excellence as we head out for the final stretch – our teaching will be done right until the very end.