Do you know what’s wrong with education today? Yeah that too, but I’m referring to testing. To be clear I do not mean assessing whether or not something that you have taught and the students have sufficiently practiced has been mastered or not. I mean publisher tests. The ones that go with the curriculum we are forced to teach with written by people who have obviously bitten off more than they can chew. To add to the mediocrity of prewritten/scripted curriculum is the added pressure of a data driven bureaucracy. You see once the scores are in the judgment begins. Not necessarily administrative judgment, but peer judgement and self judgement. We all know who we work with. We listen to each other’s struggles over lunch on a daily basis. So how did so and so’s class score so much better than my class? Why did so many of my students not master the material? I know I am a good teacher, so what happened? I’ll tell you what happened. So and so taught specifically to the test. Asking questions with the same format, the same wording, the same necessary skills in the same order. Not the specific test question, but a mirror image if you will. So and so’s students were well trained to pass the test. Whereas in my room, I am teaching to the standards. Pacing guides limit how much time I can stay on a topic, not allowing for actual mastery. But I certainly expose my students to all the math they need to know. They don’t succeed on these tests because they have not had time to master the material, They know enough to save themselves from failure, but not enough to ace the test. How could they? They didn’t have a chance to marinate in the material and fully understand the concepts before they were assessed. But we have to use theses scores as grades, we have to test at certain times. It seems the data is more important than the achievement of our students. The data is more important than taking time to teach social skills and problem solving skills. The data is so important we are sacrificing our children to make sure we have numbers to compare at any given time. A snapshot of how ineffective teachers are. Screw the tests! If I was simply allowed to teach at the pace of my students’ learning I might be able to help produce productive members of society on a larger scale. And better yet society at large might be better off if we could simply get rid of these tests, or at least the pacing guide that forces when to give the test. What’s wrong with education today is not really the test, it’s the powerlessness of teachers to do what they know to be the best for their students.
ARGH!! I am trying to finish my plans for next week. And I have planning block. Ironically my planning block is bringing about some Aha! moments for me. I’m having trouble finishing because of the learning target part of Formative Assessment. To clarify, this is where you clearly relate the learning intention to your students. They should know exactly what they are learning and how they are learning it. It is not just “This is what you are learning today” it is not just the standard or even the objective of a lesson. It is a goal for the students to aim for- a target. I should be able to state what they should be learning TODAY in relation to the LONG TERM goal for the unit. Marrying this with a scripted curriculum is a huge challenge for me because the curriculum is written in a spiral, little bits rotating with other bits that repeat here and there. I’m still digging through this mess and will update as I go.
My Aha! moment is realizing why so many teachers may be ineffective excellent teachers. It is because they are trying to do it all in every lesson. This process is meant not only to focus the students on what and how they are learning (making them better thinkers) but also to focus the teacher. To keep the teacher focusing on the same goal while teaching. Not diverting. Not teaching a little bit here and a little bit there hoping somehow the student will put it all together and be smart- like the curriculum says to. So the AHA! is that to be an effective teacher I need to be just as focused as my learning target. Well planned and deliberate. Small goals that lead to bigger goals. This takes some serious thought. Serious time. Planning is becoming a marathon when it used to be a sprint. I have to straighten out this spiral and make this curriculum more intentional. My lessons used to be loosely planned. These pages on these days following prompts in manual to teach these skills or this strategy, easily diverted as I went along. Now I’m building a pathway to follow rather than meandering along. But the path is unclear thus my frustration.
I must get back to work now.
I have been an elementary teacher for 11 years. I have struggled with my teaching potential clashing with my district’s mandates on how , when, and what I am supposed to teach each day. I have been jaded and dispassionate about my work. I remember during one of my many professional development days in which we were being introduced to a new district adopted ( mandated) curriculum, remarking that I felt like I was being forced to take a drink from an open fire-hydrant. So much information, direction, philosophy research, rules, scripts, just too much to master and relate to my students. 7 years later, I teach my curriculum with rigor and fidelity, on the same day and the same page as everyone else. Yet, my students average scores aren’t budging. They are mediocre at best. Yet I am a strong teacher and I know my students have grander potential.
I come up with new ideas to relate information but they are usually shot down because they are not in the scripted program. I must follow the script and keep up with the pacing guide. Small adjustments okay as long as I am doing what some researcher decided is best for me to do. Students didn’t get it?- “Sorry- use your intervention time accordingly.” Intervention time- 40 minutes 3 times a week. Not enough. Not good enough.
But I see a light at the end of the tunnel. Change is coming. Common Core is coming and a district move towards Formative Assessment techniques is coming. Finally, I can see relief. So I started researching I have read several resources on how to better teach Comprehension and Formative Assessment techniques some of which directly borrowed from my principal. But when I went in to check on these new expectations, I was told I must use the same curriculum and still do so with rigor and fidelity. Tension returns.
But I have found a new passion and urge to teach within the research I want to use these new theories and make my students not better test takers, but better thinkers. I teach multiple subjects with scripted curriculum But I am determined to tweak them (within bounds) not to get higher test scores, but to teach my student to be better thinkers.
My intention is to record my travails and success here. It seems a big muddy mess marrying scripted curriculum with formative assessment. My principal says it can and will be done. I fear it will be done half-assed and unsuccessfully, unless someone takes the initiative to do a little trial and error, share what works, and find the biggest obstacles rather than just waiting to be told what to do and how. So here I go. On a mission to teach my students how to think. Wish me luck!