Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Content Lament

 I know I have written about this before, and I'm sure I will write about this again.  But seriously?  Currently, schools all over New York are tossing authentic learning to the side in order to furiously bubble their way into the hearts of political leaders everywhere.  If you are turned on by solid, dark circles, incessant pencil sharpening and thumb twiddling, then by all means - enjoy the crap out of this week!  However, if you are on Team Learning, you are probably stressed out, burned out and grossed out.

In this climate of Faux Accountability*, we are consumed with testing, test prep and teaching to the test.  I was talking to a teacher recently who was lamenting the fact that she spent so much time worrying about the upcoming tests and felt ashamed that she had used so much class time to mercilessly prepare her children.  But you know what?  I don't blame her.  The reality is that many of us have to abandon what we believe to be excellent teaching in order to bend to the demands of The Almighty Test.  The question is, how far can we bend before we break? 

And as I think about all the testing (So. Much. Testing.) and subsequent test prepping, I can't help but wonder** - what happened to a belief in deep, rich teaching?  Is our passion for numbers and graphs replacing our previous passion for instilling a love of learning and fostering the talents of young people?

When i was a kid (back when movies were 99 cents and jelly bracelets were all the rage), I remember truly amazing experiences in school.  Deep, authentic opportunities for me to push myself and integrate a wide range of learning.  Get this.  In sixth grade, my best friend and I became obsessed with environmental issues.  We were totally young crunchies in the making...and while I'm still into recycling, I definitely fell off the Crunchie Truck and onto the High Heeled Bandwagon somewhere along the line.  And you know what we did? We began a white paper recycling program at our school.  For realsies.  Two twelve year old girls calling recycling facilities, preparing quesitons, comparing prices, organizing data, making decisions, implementing a new program, designing programs to teach other children, interacting with adults....

It.  Was.  Hot.

Do I remember the day when I learned how to take notes in an outline form? No
Do I remember the day when I learned how to do the math necessary to compare different values?  No.
Do I remember the day when I learned how to read a non-fiction text?  No.

I remember the moments where I got to put all that good teaching together and use it in a way that felt meaningful to me.  And I was a better student for it.  (Just look at me now!)

I would give my left leg (complete with fabulous shoe) to have the opportunity to teach like this again.  In all honesty, I got a taste of this at my last school, which, despite it's flaws, saw the value in creating authentic learning experiences for children.  So, no, I couldn't touch the photocopier (because pushing buttons is hard), but at least I got to flex my creative teacher muscle every once in awhile.  Sadly, I know this is NOT the case in most schools, no matter what neighborhood you teach in.  I can't even begin to describe what a shame this and how NECESSARY subjects like science and social studies, which allow children to integrate their learning in real ways, if only to avoid the following scenarios.

Science Class.  The group is working on an herb garden. 
Teacher: Okay guys, get out your rulers and measure your plant to check it's growth. 
Kid: Rulers?!  (incredulous look) But it's not MATH!  (laughs at what he sees as confusion on the part of the teacher)
Teacher: *sigh*

Social Studies.  The class is working on creating a history of their neighborhood.
Teacher: So I think our next step is to find some more resources online and in the library.  Who wants to do what?
Kid: Library?  For books?  But we did Readers Workshop this morning!  Why are we reading!
Teacher: *tear rolls down cheek*

And these are just off the top of my head!

Feeling just as frustrated as Mrs. Mimi?  Check out
this link to read more about what is on the mind of REAL TEACHERS.  (Thanks Allyssa for the link!)

Roll of thunder, HEAR US CRY!

 * I say Faux Acccountability because I think it is absolutely ridiculous that teachers are continuously being held solely accountable when we are told what to teach AND how to teach it.  Feel free to set the bar high (I mean, bring it on!) but then don't tie my hands with also telling me HOW I have to get there, limiting my access to resources all while refusing to acknowledge any other contextual issues that vary by school.  (Hello?  Poverty?  I knew was you standing over there!)  Honestly!  Is this some kind of challenge designed to test people's professional limits (a la Project Runway or Top Chef) or is this a classroom?  Is Heidi Klum hiding somewhere behind the writing center?

** A subtle (or maybe not so) homage to Carrie Bradshaw in honor of the upcoming SATC2 movie.  Be still my beating heart...

5 comments:

Natalya said...

Authentic learning experiences are where our educational system SHOULD be at. Not just bubbles and worksheets. THAT is what makes education meaningful and what fuels the passion in children to decide what they "want to be when they grow up". If you can't incite passion in the children, we might as well just give up now because I don't think there are jobs as professional "bubble shaders" out there.

BTW...I don't think these lawmakers would be able to sit in a classroom taking standardized tests, studying for standardized tests, and prepping for standardized tests as much as they are making our children do. EVERY single one of them would be labeled ADHD if we made them sit there taking bubble tests all day long. grrrrr....bring back the passion!

BTW, I can't WAIT for SATC2 to come out! I may just have a comso to celebrate the premier! lol

Stu said...

For the last three days I've been giving the state's achievement tests to a collection of fifth graders with learning disabilities.

The first day, Monday, all four of them tried their best to do work that was much too hard for them. By today, all but one of them had given up, just filling in bubbles randomly.

I'd like to invite Secretary Duncan and President Obama to sit down and take our standardized tests...in a language they couldn't read. That would give them some idea of what these children are up against. Doesn't the concept of a learning disability imply that a child might be having trouble in a particular subject?

Why do we need a test to show that these students are not achieving at "grade level" (whatever that means)? We could get a quicker and more accurate picture of their achievement by talking to their teachers.

And speaking of poverty...I just read about a research study which shows that access to books is as great a predictor of reading achievement as is poverty...and it's the third study to show this.

Amy said...

Well, as I read this blog, I come to learn and grow about teaching. As a teacher, we are promoting life-long learning, which is stifled by the politics. It is so frustrating!
I am happy to hear other teachers aggravated by the system.
Mrs. Mimi, how do teachers band together, in a proactive way, to change the system? Again and again, I ask myself this question. There are more teachers than...I don't know.
How do we do it? (I am somewhat unrealistic.)
BTW- I hope SATC2 is a great sequel!

Helen's Book Blog said...

That's so funny that you mention Roll of Thunder, Hear [our] cry since I am currently listening to it with my daughter.

On a more serious note, what a great post! The standardized testing boom and loss of creative/authentic teaching is SO ANNOYING! I recently left the classroom to become a Teacher Librarian and I must say it is nice not to deal with testing, except that it is tough to get teachers in to the library to do research because they feel the crunch of testing. Ugh.

Abby said...

Just to share a recent example from my 6th grade classroom...

We were discussing surveys & graphs and my students were conducting their own. I reminded a student to put a question mark at the end of his survey question. He responded with, "Why does it matter? This isn't English!!"



This kid is actually one of the stronger students in the class!
I wanted to cry (and bash my head off the wall).

Who's Peeking?