Figuring It Out

I understand the idea of the test. If you’re new to this blog, the test I’m talking about is TAKS soon to morph into STAAR.
I went to school in the 80s. I had the teacher we called “Boring (insert last name starting with B here).” I aced his class. Every day we walked into the room, picked up a worksheet and wrote the answers, typically simple vocab, while he read the newspaper at his desk and told us to shut up. In ninth grade, my physical science curriculum consisted of rewriting the book in spirals and watching World War 2 films every Friday.
The problem: I’m not sure the test stops that kind of behavior. The move to a more rigorous STAAR won’t either.
This book I love called Whatever it Takes compares standardized testing to an autopsy. It says the real challenge schools have is getting involved in the process BEFORE the autopsy.
That’s a thought I can get behind 100%. Only the involvement has to be something OTHER than a test.
The simple fact is, and every bit of research proves this to be true, a test is false reassurance that education is better than it was in the past.
So what can we do?
1. Master teacher critiques. (not administrator. Admins are great. I LOVE mine. But they’re managers now, and most have been out of the classroom for too long to relate. PLUS, anyone can put on the dog and pony show of quality teaching for an announced admin eval.)
Two of the best teachers to ever instruct at my school have moved elsewhere. Anne Patterson is in Highland Park. Sheila Curlin works for a company that helps AP teachers become better AP teachers.
Both should have been in other classrooms helping teachers become better. And their classrooms should’ve been open for observation.
That observation should have been MANDATORY.
Curlin and Patterson could teach teachers more about excellence in the classroom in one lesson than 30 hours of post graduate work.
We have teachers like them on campus still, and we’re not alone.
2. Lesson Plans…and not those silly little papers we fill out with objectives listed. Real plans. With scaffolding. Plans that show how over the course of a unit we will measure student understanding of objectives (not by a test, but by formative assessment. NOT paper, not Scantron, not something created and billed by a multi-billion dollar businesses run by men who have no idea about real education.).
Instead these assessments are found in real discussion, in debate, in playing devil’s advocate, in creative projects. The list goes on.
The plans don’t stop there. They end with teachers looking at the results of their work, looking at the successes and failures and making changes as necessary. AND documenting those statistics and plans.
3. Team Teaching. At least teaming for those students who need extra help. How much more would a student learn if their English, history, science, social studies and elective teachers were using the same over arching idea then covering their subject area. EX: The Olympics. In a social studies class students could cover the history and geography and human element of the games. In math they could do anything from measuring distances/engineering ideas/body mass/mathematical equations that show who wins and/or loses, etc. In English students could study literature from ancient Greece and Rome or even study media reports from the WW2 games or 1987 games. They could compare and contrast games now compared to their origins. They could research. They could write, really write, based on facts and evidence and something other than a cute or touching two-page story about a time they met someone who changed their lives. In science they could study Physics, Bio, Chem, A&P starting with the Olympics.
Take that to art. 2-D and 3-D work that starts with the Olympics focus and spirals out. At the end of the unit, the students totally understand the Olympics, and the concepts they’ve learned have been reinforced from class to class to class. True learning has taken place. Learning that transcends a test.
An awesome master teacher friend of mine used to teach Art History. She always had tons of kids pass that extremely difficult AP test. She always used literature and history lessons while teaching art, and her kids were able to understand art’s place in time and culture because of the spiraling of curriculum to curriculum to curriculum.
This kind of teaching can ultimately be measured by a test, but the test doesn’t drive the curriculum.
The kind of education above isn’t easy. It cant be simplified to pass/fail. It requires real collaboration, not just a few words on a piece of paper, not hours and hours out of a school year sitting at a desk with a no. 2 pencil, a test booklet, answer document and certified educator acting as test administrator instead of a qualified professional who has spent YEARS learning the craft of teaching.
I read once that REAL education change won’t happen until we quit trying to change students into widgets, nuts and bolts. I believe that. I hope others do, too, before it’s too late.

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