education reform, testing

Creating the Anxious Child

I never saw a multiple choice test until I decided to become a teacher in America.  Having gone through the Danish school system, of course, there were tests but they happened at the end of the year and were written and oral exams, not just fill in the bubble and the machine will take care of the rest.  The first time I took a multiple choice test was for placement exams for my education degree, at first I thought it was fun, after all, all you had to do was fill in a bubble?  I didn’t have to explain or even comprehend, I could just guess?  Breeze through and forget about it all afterwards.  Throughout college I studied, after all, I am an overachiever and yet whenever I came across the multiple choice test my spirit instantly died.  I was glad that it didn’t affect my  teacher, only myself and my grade, because I would doubt myself so much on some of the answers, meant to be tricky, that often I wouldn’t even know what to put down even though I knew the material.

We forget to think about how it must feel for kids to be solely responsible for teacher’s pay and jobs.  How must it feel for students that if they do poorly on a test it will directly affect the teacher that they love?  Kids are not stupid, they are aware of what is happening around us, how politicians and “reformers” are asking their test scores be part of something bigger.  For this text-anxious child that knowledge would have been the nail in the coffin.  People say that with this knowledge students will do even better because they will want to protect their teacher, to show off what they know.  No child goes into a test trying to deliberately fail, at least not most, and yet placing that pressure of someone else’s livelihood and dream is just too much for children to bear.

What are we doing to the children of America?  What pressure are we placing them under?  How can we force them through more rigorous assessment to get them ready for the future when that could mean that their teachers no longer get to teach.  We worry that America is too anxious, too many kids are being diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks, depression, and other pill-needing maladies.  And then we wonder what happened?  Why are all these children feeling so pressured?  Why can they not cope with “kid stuff” – well look at our schools and what we do to them.   Education is no longer for the kids, it is for the politicians.  

education reform, testing

It Is Time to Reclaim Tests

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps it is time we reclaim the word “Test.”

Perhaps we, as educators, can show society that yes tests are part of the picture but they are not the only way to assess learning.
Perhaps we need to change the way politicians see tests as only multiple choice, scantron torture devices and bring them into a realm of good tests.
Society has bastardized the word tests and now many educators shudder at the mere thought of them, but it shouldn’t be that way.  We know all tests are not created equal and we know that all tests are not inherently evil.  We just need to find a way to show those in reform power what a good tests looks like.  Something that actually teaches our children and helps their knowledge acquisition.
Are we up for that challenge?  Is there such a thing as good test? 
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being a teacher, change, Student-centered, testing

Yes, I Test My Students – As Long as its Worthwhile

Image found here

I have tests in my room… there I said it.  This reward-disliking, limited homework, freethinking teacher actually dares to test her students.  To some this is surprising, to others borderline offensive, and yet to me it makes perfect sense.  See, I believe it is all in what you do with the test.

I used to give tests just so I had a grade to end home and record in my grade-book.  The test was always the final product, the destination of our learning journey.  If a student failed the test or did poorly, it was not my fault, but rather that of the student obviously having poor study skills.  My second year teaching I realized that maybe it wasn’t the student but instead my teaching that was the real cause of their poor test results, and finally this year I realized that it was all me, and even more so, that I actually had power of the format of the tests and what answers they provided.  So this year I took the power away from the tests and gave it back to my students.

Tests in my room take many forms.  There are the dreaded WKCE tests, our state’s standardized testing which take up a whole week of our time in October.  That week is tough for me because this represents the type of tests that I immensely dislike.  Tests that offer no chance for redoing, learning, or even results to be worked with.  We take them, lock them up, send them off and then get results in March – yes, at least 4 months later.  They also test on curriculum that we haven’t even had a chance to teach yet in 4th grade, so we try to cram that into our poor students just so they can regurgitate it when needed, which often they can’t.  Those tests don’t make for any deep mastery, they don’t create appreciation of the world for the students, or even provide them with real learning opportunity.  It’s a take and forget test, that just happens to decide funding for my district.  Sure we try to make it fun with singing, bubble gum and other projects, but still they are something to be lived through and forgotten about, sorry.  Those tests deserve all of the bad publicity they get.

There are valuable tests though, such as the pre-test and post-test I give in math.  Some people may scoff at the notion of pre-testing students on curriculum they have yet to be taught but experience has taught me that done the right way, this is incredibly valuable for the teacher and for the student.  It simply is all a matter of how it is presented to the students.  We discuss how this pre-test is a way for me to guide my teaching, that anything they don’t get they leave blank, and to not spend a lot of time on it.  If they get something, great, if they don’t, great.  Either way it helps me teach them better.  There have been units when a student or two has mastered everything before it has even been taught, knowing that information gave me a chance to offer enrichment rather than the same material.  Those pre-tests let me know when students lack background knowledge or when the whole class is ready for harder concepts.  Those pre-tests also give my students a chance to see what is to come and some even comment on how excited they are to learn something.  These pre-tests are the same as the post-tests, which means I can compare their growth.  How did they do, where are the holes, what did I miss?  I always make it a point to show the students their growth from to pre to post; they often can’t believe how much they have learned.  Those tests inform and push me harder.

Then there are the tests that naturally evolve.  In science rather than a test on the structures of life, my students made an incredible crayfish documentary.  They chose to research and document all of the knowledge they had garnered with the world, rather than put pencil to paper, and became real experts in the doing.  If I ever need proof that they learned something, I just have to watch the 6 minute video.  Or how about in social studies when we learned about Native Americans for the 3rd time in their short school career.  Rather than a formal test, I told them to research whatever they wanted as long as it had to do with Native Americans in WI.  The result: corn bread, models, posters, and time lines were some of the chosen projects.  We don’t do spelling tests but rather test each other when we cannot spell a word.  We don’t do grammar tests but instead create grammar hunts throughout the school.  We don’t do tests that seem purposeless, but rather embrace those that give us something and disregard those that don’t.  We discuss as a classroom how we would like to show off our learning and we find ways that suit all students.  That doesn’t mean we never test, it just means they become more meaningful to us.  As an example my students asked me to test their knowledge in social studies about pioneers because they were unsure of what they needed to remember, so I did.  Tests don’t have to be rigid.

Which brings me to my final discovery in my classroom; tests are not the end.  In my room, they are another step in our journey and only a tool used to figure out where our holes are.  So once a test has been given, it is given back for correction.  Students may use their books, their brains, each other, whatever they can to solve a problem.  Often the mistakes are careless, soemtimes not, but almost always they are fixed and the right knowledge emerges.  Tests are not meant to be the end all for me, they are meant to inform, so when I let my students work with them again I am living that philosophy.  Students know that they get a second chance, because let’s face it, sometimes a question is misread or life is distracting, yet they still try their hardest the first time.

So I return to the point of tests; are they to inform our instruction or to provide us with grades?  I choose the latter every time.  Inform me please, make  me a better teacher, help my students learn more, and don’t ever stop us from enjoying the adventure that is school.

education reform, hopes, testing

Bring Back the Thinking

One of the biggest struggles in my classroom and teaching is how to infer.  This vast concept of being able to process information and knowledge to produce an answer is a lifeskill, one of those daunting tasks as a teacher that we must accomplish making sense of for our students.  I don’t think the students are the problem, in fact, they are quite creative in their thinking; it is the educational system as a whole that is to blame for this.

With an emphasis on tests we teach students there is only one packaged answer, at least at the elementary level.  We do not teach them that the answer can be deeper than just one sentence or that their answer may differ from ours.  Why?  Because you cannot measure that on a test.  A test requires one bubble filled in or writing that fits into someones rubric.  A test requires conformity in our thinking and particularly in our creative problem-solving skills.  Tests do not like when we debate or argue various points.  Tests urge simplicity in our instruction.

That is not to say that all tests are bad.  We often discuss how it is what you do with the information that measures the worth of a test, and yet, tests hinder us from doing exceptional things in the classroom on a daily basis.  That urgent need to constantly check for progress through a test experience, stiffles students in their quest to become bigger and better thinkers, and to help create inferences.  SO most of our instruction is teaching to the test, math has one answer, when we ask questions they almost always have one answer as well.  Teacher bias means a need for student thinking to line up with their own interpretation, so it becomes right versus wrong.   After all, how many of us after the correct answer has been given, stop to ask whether there are other correct answers?

So why am I so hung up on inferences?  Well, they require that one gathers a lot of information, mixes it up with background knowledge, and then draws a new conclusion.  Inference requires confidence in ones own qualities as a thinker, as an independent creator.  Tests do not teach confidence.  My instruction attempts to, yet I am constantly battling students who think that there is just ONE answer.  After all, that is what they have been taught.  So if they miss that one true answer, then they must be stupid.  It appears that we, by pushing tests on our students, become the creators of our own demise; students who have no confidence in their abilities to learn.  And by “We” I mean the system as a whole.  In our incessant quest to measure, we are dumbing down our student population, urging them not to think creatively but rather stick to the known, the facts, the things that can be measured.  We are making them believe that the world has a right and wrong answer in every scenario, but it doesn’t.  No wonder some of our most successful thinkers did not feel the urge to complete college.  We have to get past the one answer tests to help our students.  We have to get past the constant need for progress measurement.  Get back to teaching.  Get back to discussion.  Get back to creative solutions.  It is time to bring the thinking back in education.

being a teacher, education reform, hopes, students, testing

Being a Good Teacher Means

It is no longer a secret that our nation is obsessed with the supposed battle between “good” and “bad” teachers.  Apparently, according to many, America has an epidemic of bad teachers on their hands and it is only through dismantling of the unions that these bad teachers can be disposed of.  So for the sake of research and help, I asked colleagues to finish this sentence “Being a good teacher means…”  So America, here to help you with the definition of a good teacher, as well as how to evealuate them, see my favorite answers below:

Being a good teachers means…

  • Being willing to reflect, change, and improve-looking for the best opportunities for student learning – @MrMacnology
  • Laughter, lots of laughter. Laughing with your students – @HeidiSiwak
  • Recognizing you are a learner, as well as a teacher and getting your students to understand that learning is for life -@henriettaMI
  • Listening more than you talk … Often kids have a better answer and you just have to hear it – @Polygirl68
  • Being open 2 our students drive their own learning in the classroom – @MollyBMom
  • Always feeling the lesson could’ve gone just a wee bit better – @Attipscast
  • Means u never stop learning and u always work to improve – @KTVee
  • Being a learner. being humble. being empathetic. being flexible. being knowledgeable. being driven. @RussGoerend
  • Always doing what’s right by the kids @Becky7274

So there you have it; what makes a teacher good.  In my words; passion, change, dedication, transparency, authenticity, knowing when to be quiet, and knowing when to fight.  No one said test scores, rigidity, or grades, so why do they seem to be the driving force behind what determines someones worth?

What is missing?

being a teacher, education reform, reality, testing, time

Give Me Time

I do not teach in a poor school, nor do I teach in an affluent one. I teach in your middle of America school, where we have our constraints but do not have to spend our entire paycheck buying classroom supplies. I am lucky in some respects, yet sheltered in others, so I wonder whether I can truly form an opinion on movies like “Waiting for Superman.”. Can I judge what this movie portrays when I have not taught in a fail factory or been labeled a bad teacher?

What I can respond to though are statements such as the one at the end of the movie, “Our system is broken…and it feels impossible to fix.”. Statements such as this does nothing to fix the problem but perpetuates the pervasiveness of just how horrible the American school system is. This angers me. The entire American school system is not horrible, there are entities of it that are, and yes, those entities need to be fixed but is throwing out the entire system really the way to do it?

The preferred method of fixing anything in education seems to be to throw it all out and start over. You see it in school districts all over; desperate to fix falling scores or inadequate growth, money becomes the solution. Buy a new program! Buy a new test! More training! More supervision! More, more, more! It appears we are choking ourselves to mediocrity and then wondering who is to blame for the lack of oxygen?

So my plea is simple; enough with the reform! We have been reformed to death these last many years. Stop changing the strategies, stop changing the methods on how to test us and just let us teach. Let me teach. Give me time to reach a deeper level with my students. Give me time to let them create and explore. Give me time to differentiate for all of my students and not just the easy ones. Give me time to speak, to listen and to develop. Some may say that time is all teachers ever have been given. Not true; our time to learn with our students has been taken away minute by minute by new curriculum implementation, standards, tests and more guidelines. So before you tell me to change again, give me time to learn how to teach this way. Then I can become a better teacher and prove to you that our system is not impossible to fix, just give me time to teach.