Slice of Life Tuesday: End of the School Year…Finally…?

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Tomorrow is the last school day with students before break. Wow! What a year. I wrapped up with an interesting meeting with my partner teacher and our principal. Yes, it was a long year (thanks to the snow days!). Yes, we are ready for a break. But we are also looking forward to the next school year — an exciting new adventure awaits!

Thank you to all of the students, parents, and colleagues that made this school year one for the books. I appreciate all of you!

A little poem to leave with you:

Forget that we started class before eight. Forget your pencil? No, I won’t wait! Forget the answers on the test? Forget to act your very best?
Forget the author, forget the plot. Forget which book was great, or not. Forget to walk straight in the hall. Forget to pick up the basketball.

But don’t forget the fun we had. (Don’t forget to ask for new IPads!) Don’t forget to help each other; she’s your sister, he’s your brother. Don’t forget to think of me whenever you use the Power of Three.

Don’t forget the lessons you learned, about thinking, dreaming, and how you turned…work into the fabulous grades you earned.

Forget about Ellis Island, Russia’s pogroms, and geography’s many, many miles. But don’t forget —

— I’ll miss your smiles!

This poem was inspired by Kenn Nesbitt’s “What to Remember in School” (from Aliens Have Landed at our School, 2006)

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: What a Find!

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I looked at http://www.indianayoungwriters.org with a student yesterday, and I found a picture that was familiar. Author Ralph Fletcher, and a teaching colleague from my school were together on the site’s thumbnail pictures. As I scrolled through, looking for the information I wanted, my student stopped me and said, “Hey, isn’t that Mr. Y from upstairs?” I gasped. It was!

I remembered that day. We traveled to Indianapolis together to attend Ralph’s writing workshop for teachers.  I replied, “Yes, it is, and I was standing right there.” (I pointed to the blank part of the screen to the right of my buddy.)

Another student heard me, and jumped up from her desk. “What? Where were you?” I showed her the space on the screen where my body should have been. The young lady said, “You were with Mr. Y? What for?” The young man said, “Wow. That’s cool. You met Ralph Fletcher?” I told the story of how teachers want to learn, too. The advantage is that teachers get to learn from the real published authors sometimes, when organizations like the Indiana Partnership for Young Writers support our learning!

I abandoned my original search on the site and started clicking through the icons. How cool, indeed! Then I saw it — a slide show on the next page — and there, right where I described, was…ME! My girl student yelled out, “There you are! You’re right!” The boy yelled, “Mrs. Sniadecki’s on here!” We shared the find with the class. I couldn’t believe it! I felt famous.

Then I thought of that movie title, “Almost Famous.” I remembered that day, and how exciting it was to watch Ralph speak. The opportunity to rub shoulders with one of the best writers out there made for a fabulous day, but this! Sharing this experience with my students — now a year “plus” later — was amazing!

 

Testing: Taking Its Toll

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I read more than enough news this week about standardized testing in the country and how the focus on these annual assessments is draining our faith in the American education system. Tonight I would like to share my thoughts on standardized testing, as I experience it from three perspectives: 1) teacher in a public school, 2) mom, and 3) former student who took these tests when I was young. Please be advised, these are my opinions and experiences, and they are not meant to persuade, coax, or otherwise insist that any person agrees with me. I’m only sharing because this is my blog, and this issue means a great deal to me at this time.

1) I am a public school teacher. I love teaching! I love my students, and I work to encourage them to be intelligent, thoughtful, active citizens of our country. In the last few years, I have noticed that the emphasis on testing/assessing started to hinder their performance in school, especially the creative thinking that I once saw. (Every 3 weeks we assess progress, according to the state standards; each quarter we monitor progress and predict; and we participate in state standardized testing in the spring.) Students, in general, are very concerned about their test scores. They want to do well. They know how to act. But sometimes, I look at their faces, and I think, “Oh, you poor things!” I just wanted you to read a book and talk with me about it, and we could recommend our “next-on-the-list” books for each other. We could write whatever we want, and revise and edit for publishing, like real writers do! Students have actually asked me, “Is this for a grade?” or “Is this going to be on the test?” I tell them the truth. “Everything we do is meant to help you to learn. You can pass the test if you are an active learner.”

Parents are under pressure now to help their kids pass the standardized tests, so the school can pass, so the state can pass. Parents want what is best for their children, so they do whatever it takes. The state governments have set up several ways for parents to take control of their students’ learning, including participating in school choice programs, accepting vouchers that lead away from public schools, and opting out of testing altogether. One problem is the parents are being forced to make decisions about education with no expertise in the actual ways that education works. Parents are acting on what they hear from the media. “The kids are not performing as they should, and you should do something about it.”  What should they do? Listen to those who are not educators? Apparently. From my experience, I see more test anxiety in students in the past 5 years, and less overall authentic student achievement, than I did in the first 5 years of my teaching career. I believe the media does have something to do with it.

Another problem with standardized tests is that they are given at an inopportune time during the school year. This year, our state has a round of testing before, and a round after, spring break. I wonder how that makes sense? Schools spend most of the school year focusing on scores students received last year, and instructing with a goal of increasing scores for this year. Of course, I DO want my students to improve and grow, but I want them to learn, improve, and grow all year, not just for spring testing season.

One last problem I have noticed is that state governments have also encouraged school districts to evaluate teachers — reward and punish them —  based on their students’ test scores on the standardized tests. This has caused much havoc, as children are not robots, and they will not perform each test day as the government would choose. It is insane that a teacher may or may not receive a raise, or may or may not be judged as a “satisfactory” teacher based on a few hours of testing in the spring of the school year. Now I DO agree that we teachers need to be held accountable! We should be instructing, and our students should be learning, based on the standards, over the course of a school year. My goal is student achievement. Of course! But I do not see how student achievement can be assessed by only a standardized test. There is so much more to it than that! I remember a slogan from years back: “A student is more than a test score.” It was a goofy campaign, but the message was clear. We want our students to succeed in life, and life is not one test.

2) I am a mom. I NEVER remember my daughters coming home from school, worried about taking “the test.” They did their homework. They did their projects (with little help from me, by the way). They learned to think, write, and research on their own when they wanted to know more about a subject. They knew that their teachers were not to blame for their failures. Yes, sometimes people fail. But we don’t let failing define us; we allow failing to teach us lessons, and we grow.”

3) I am a product of the public school system. I NEVER remember being worried about the standardized tests when I was a student. I do remember our teachers mentioning that they would be coming up soon, and those teachers taught us how to fill in bubbles on the answer sheets, make our best choices, and encouraged us to “try our best.” We knew the material. Our teachers had taught us what we needed to know. I passed the tests each time I took them. I was never a “star student,” but I did my best, and that was all anyone was asking for.

Let us help today’s students to become life-long learners again. As you read the news about testing students, consider what is best for kids, and not what is popular according to the government or the media. Make wise decisions, based on real research from education experts, teachers, and school leaders. Let’s find solutions that will help our students to meet goals greater than passing a test that takes just a few hours out of their lifetimes.