Tuesday, February 27, 2018

If the test disappeared???

This is not a rant against state testing.  I was clearing out some pages of notes from the umpteen legal pads, spirals, and composition notebooks I have taken notes in throughout the last several years and I came across a couple of intriguing reflective questions.

What would you do differently if your state test disappeared?
What would you keep doing if your state test disappeared?

I hope that most educators would continue doing many of the engaging and relevant lessons that kids love.  Of course we all would!  These are the lessons that are the most fun for us too.  I can also guess that there are several instructional practices that would disappear from your spring-time classrooms.

What about things like assessment and curricular mastery checks?  What would change?  What would remain?  What would change in the area of differentiation?  Would you still scaffold lessons for students lacking pre-requisite skills.  What about RTI?  Would you continue to provide extra, targeted instruction for struggling learners?

It is easy to say yes to these questions, but it is also easy to see how easy it would be to let some of them wane.  Even with the best of intentions and even when we see clear benefits to certain practices, they typically diminish when the pressure of results diminishes.  It is also easy to argue that a much softer accountability standard would improve the higher level thinking and problem-based learning in classrooms across the state.  There are very few classrooms that prepare students for the state test by providing them with an engaging, cross-curricular project about animal adaptations or bridge building.

What about your day-to-day instruction?  Would it improve?  Would you venture away from your curriculum a little more often to do something more engaging?  Would you worry less about covering it all and more about deep conversations among students?  The curriculum in Texas (TEKS) is ridiculously too much.  Common Core is too.  Then districts turn the standards into units of study which actually add to the number of pages and materials and learning expectations.  How would you attack the learning expectations for your students differently?

What would I do differently?  Probably a bunch.  I wish I wasn't saying it, but it is true.  Test results drive everything.  I wish that a meaningful written curriculum and strong, engaging lessons drove the
learning and the tested portion was simply the measure.  Unfortunately, it is the other way around.  The test drives the machine of teaching and learning.

Regardless, the test is a reality.  The expectations from students, teachers, principals, districts, parents, and communities are a reality.  So... based on these great questions, what can I do better? 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Boycott The Incredibles

I think not!

I can't wait to see it!  My boys were the perfect age to enjoy the first one!  I am really looking forward to the sequel and so are many of my friends.  Earlier today, I noticed two tweets about the upcoming movie.  First, a friend of mine simply tweeted that she was looking forward to it and included a link to the movie trailer.  I watched the trailer.  Awesome!

Then I saw this tweet:
At one point, Mr. Incredible is trying to help Dash with his math.  Dash tells his dad that he has to do his math the way his teacher tells him to do his math.  Frustrated, Mr. Incredible says, "Math is math!"

So there are some teacher people out there feeling like this is such a negative that the movie should be boycotted.  Really?  Really...

Is this a level of protection our kids need?  Do they need to be shielded from cartoon dads that hate math homework and the "new" way to do math?  Especially when many of our students go home to parents that feel the exact same way. 

Or perhaps the boycotters don't like that Hollywood and Disney have dared to speak of education in a negative sense.  Aren't we continually trying to make our schoolin' efforts better all the time?  This can't possibly be the first time anyone has seen an unappealing view of math homework.

Perhaps, instead of boycotting the movie, watch it with your kid.  Most children will giggle or ignore the scene.  A few will say, "That's you, Dad!"  A few will say, "No way!  I love math!"  Either way, simply have a conversation and provide some guidance.

Now excuse me while I go laugh my way through Bad Teacher.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Today, I cried.

Tears fell from eyes this morning as I drove to school.  The radio played the audio recording of a Snapchat from Florida's high school shooting yesterday.  It was the sound of children dying.  It was the sound of fear and terror.

Every school shooting since Columbine has caused me to breathe deeply, pause, and consider exactly how crazy it is that this type of evil finds it's way into the most innocent of places.  As a career educator, nurturing students and teaching them how to be kind human beings has always been my first priority.  Schools should be safe beyond worry.

This morning, all I could think about was the possibility of my own two, wonderful children heading to a seemingly safe campus that could possibly be the next place featured on CNN.  My two boys, who have bright and happy futures ahead of them, could find themselves amidst gunfire at school.

Yesterday, at least 17 families learned that their own children would not be coming home.  In the past few years, school shootings have killed an unfathomable number of children.  Is there anything I can do to keep my own kids safe?

Sadly, there are no guarantees for safety at school.  We all wish we could guarantee a safe childhood education.  We can't.

So every morning, we send them off to school with an, "I love you."  More and more in recent years, we hope it is not the last one.

And the gun-control argument?  With all due frustration, it really doesn't matter what side you agree with.  School shootings are followed by countless thoughts and prayers and news reports.  Then the outrage and screams for better school safety fade away and no significant or discernible change has been made.  This pattern has repeated itself enough already.  Things are the same after a school shooting (except, of course for the family and friends of the victims.)  The arguments for and against gun control provide the rhetoric that empassions folks, but things do not really change.  Schools will review their practices and policies.  Special interest advocates will get 15 more minutes in the public eye.  And this time, a Florida community will never be the same.

But a few weeks from now, across the rest of the country, things will be the same until the next school shooting.

How many tragedies will it take until we do SOMETHING different?  Should we ban all gun sales in the US?  Should we train and arm teachers?  Should we significantly improve our mental health care system?  Should we fence our schools and pay for numerous armed guards? 

I am not writing to advocate for any, one potential solution, but I can tell you that I want SOMETHING different.  I do not want more children to die.  I do not want to worry that my children have a greater chance of getting murdered at school than elsewhere in this crazy world.