What I had to say…

Below are my comments from the semester:

Comment #1 to Erich’s “Hey! Couldn’t we inflate a plastic dog to compete? Wait a minute…”

Comment #2 to Kelsey’s “‘Huck Finn’: Why all the Contraversy”

Comment #3 to Jamie’s “Entry the Fourth: What’s Happening in Sschools Today”

Comment #4 to Virginia’s “Cutting, ‘It used to be thought of as something the freaky kids did in the bathroom'”

Comment #5 to Chris’ “The Business of Education and Corruption”

Comment #6 to Dan’s “A huge barrier to Games in the classroom is…”

Comment #7 to Jenny’s “5 step essay?”

Comment #8 to Kevin’s “Young Adult Literature: Connecting Literature to Life and Life to the Classics”

Comment #9 to Kristen’s “Practicalities”

Comment #10 to Nathan’s “What I didn’t read…”

Final Thoughts About Testing

As the semester comes to a conclusion, I find myself thinking back to where I began this blog in January.  My goal was to determine how I felt as a future educator about standardized tests, like the MEAP, as well as what struggles I will face with the No Child Left Behind Act in my classroom.  Today I can honestly say that I feel like I have a clear opinion in my mind about standardized testing: I think they’re WAY more hurtful than helpful to students and teachers.

I have really enjoyed completing this blog assignment throughout the course of the semester.  Yes, at times (like today where I am posting several responses at once) I felt like I was “jumping through hoops” just to get a grade, but these were mostly my thoughts before I actually sat down and started working.  I would usually wait until the last minute, and whine about the fact that I had to work on it.  However, once I sat down at Google Reader each time, I would find myself enjoying the act of skimming the articles.  I really enjoy creating the posts because I feel like I can just free-flow and type ideas as they come to me, and respond honestly to an article that I’ve found.  I think this is one of the best things that goes with blogging: the honesty it produces from not only the bloggers, but the people who comment as well.

I am excited to try and use an RSS aggregate like Google Reader and blogging in my future classroom.  I think it’s a great way to incorporate current events into the classroom without sending students on a hunt through old newspapers at home (I used to hate that!).  I also think the idea of blogging just as a reading-response notebook is great because it always students to be creative, use the technology that nearly consumes their after-school lives, and communicate with other classmates.  I have enjoyed this assignment and have learned a lot about not only testing, but about technology enhancing learning in the English classroom.

MCTE Conference Opened my Eyes to Some Very “Bright Ideas”

It was awesome! I had a great time! I can’t wait to go again next year!

That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the MCTE Bright Ideas Conference I attended last Saturday at MSU. The conference itself was wonderfully done, and spending the entire day with my mom, a sixth-grade social studies/language arts teacher, made it even more fun. This blog will be dedicated to briefly explaining what I learned at the conference (and I learned a lot! so this is just an overview).

The keynote speaker, Jacqueline Woodson, was very inspiring. This was the first time I’d ever heard an author speak, so it was interesting to hear her stories as a writer. Her belief is that “everyone has a story and deserves the right to tell it.” From here, she went on to talk about how she doesn’t believe in “writer’s block”–she believes when a writer is having a hard time writing, it’s due to fear. Fear that their work isn’t good, fear that they’re going to be judged by their readers, fear that they’re not a writer. I think this is good to keep in mind as an educator. I know that I’ve had professors that I’ve found so intimidating that I literally can’t write the introductory paragraph in my paper for their class. It has taken me hours, as time and time again I erase every sentence I write, thinking to myself no! this isn’t good enough for Prof. Smith! Woodson also talked about the peer editing stage of the writing process. She emphasized the importance of avoiding “but” when giving a comment. “I liked your introduction but…” and after that “but”, the writer only hears negative feedback. This can be really discouraging. Going along with this, Woodson recommended for listeners to ask the writer three questions during peer editing: 1.) What do you love about this piece? 2.) What three questions do you have? 3.) What’s still not working for you? She said that she generally asks these questions of three different peers–she’s built a “community” of people who love and support her writing, and those are the people she turns to for peer editing. This compliments the idea of building a “classroom community” that’s so important to me. Overall, I was very inspired by Woodson and her advice as a writer about the peer editing process was very insightful to my future teaching.

Next I attended four sessions, all of which were very good. I will attempt to summarize and explain my thoughts about them now.

SESSION #1: Finessing the Minefield: How to Survive the Orthodoxies of English Education, with John Dinan from CMU

I enjoyed this session because Prof. Dinan really focused on new teachers and the interview process. His main goal was to emphasize that there needs to be a blend between progressive education and traditional English instruction. Although he considers himself a progressive educator, he acknowledges the fact that improperly using the progressive orthodoxies can be just a detrimental in the classroom as the traditional ones.

He gave us three different scenarios from an interview process. The first one was about how to deal with the question of five paragraph essays. He emphasized “How to say what people want to hear (to get the job!) and still keep your soul.” His theory behind doing this involved three steps: Get right (meaning, decided in your own mind where you stand with 5-paragraph essays), Get real (how do 5-paragraph essays really work in the classroom? In the real world? With different types of students?), and then Get smart (say to your interviewer that you accept their 5-paragraph essay curriculum as being useful in particular circumstances, but you have some other ideas that would work well for writing too…). This Get Right, Get Real, Get Smart pattern was modeled through the other two scenarios he gave us.

I think this session was really helpful for two reasons. First of all, it got me thinking about the interview process and the types of questions that I should start preparing myself to answer. And secondly, Prof. Dinan did a nice job of explaining the importance of balancing orthodoxies, both traditional and progressive. He believed himself to be a pretty progressive educator, but he understands that sometimes barriers (such as the MEAP or the curriculum of the school) force teachers to blend the two methods of instruction. I feel like this was an important session for me to attend prior to my interviewing process.

SESSION #2: Let’s Talk Writing: How to help students share their own writing and effectively respond to peers, with Christine Dawson from MSU

This session was great because it was highly interactive. Prof. Dawson had us participate in mini-“quick writes” and share our writing aloud with the group and with a peer. Her focus was on scaffolding the process of peer editing. She gave many examples of techniques she uses. As a teacher, she likes to put a piece of her own “raw writing” she calls it, up on the overhead to model productive peer editing skills. She did this with us, and it was great to really be a hands-on participant in the session. She reminded me a lot of Nancy Atwell, as we’ve been reading her book in ENG 310.

One idea I really took away from the session that I will use in my future classroom is the “no disclaimer rule” before reading your writing aloud/to a peer. I am ALWAYS guilty of this. Whenever I have to share with my group, I can’t just start reading–I always have to say something like “I don’t think this is very good” or “This really needs some work.” Prof. Dawson pointed out how detrimental this can be to the writing process. So instead, when she instructed us to share with a peer, she gave a whole group disclaimer. She said “now I just want you all to realize that you only had 4 minutes to write this, and that you weren’t probably coming here expecting to write today, so let that be the only disclaimer, now go ahead and share your writing.” I will definitely use this method in my future classroom.

(Then my mom and I had a nice little lunch at COSI and browsed some books at Barnes and Noble.)

SESSION #3: Examples of Literary Allusions in Popular Music, by Eric Federspiel and Luke Rodesiler of South Lyon High School

This was my favorite session! Federspiel and Rodesiler put together this awesome “wiki” where they have began compiling links to music videos, lyrics, and CD/Album covers that contain literary allusions. At the beginning and end of the session, we playing “Guess the allusion” where they would put up some lyrics or an album cover on the PowerPoint and we would have to guess the literary work. Some examples that I wrote down are: Who Wrote Holden Caulfield, by Green Day (Catcher in the Rye); The Lords of Salem, by Rob Zombie (The Crucible); Things Fall Apart, album by JayZ (Things Fall Apart). There were tons of examples they showed us. They also streamed two music videos–the Gwen Stefani music video has an Adventures of Alice in Wonderland reference, and one of Marilyn Manson’s music videos with reference to The Lottery.

This was another highly interactive session, and I enjoyed it a lot. Federspiel and Rodesiler’s main purpose of using this resource in the classroom was to engage remedial learners. Sort of like using YA lit in the classroom, they believed that by using music that’s popular with students, they will become more engaged/interested readers. They gave rational for using this type of instruction in the classroom, such as “generation iPod” and the valediction of student interests.

I think this is something I will definitely use in my classroom someday. They gave us a login so that we can access and add to their “wiki”, and as soon as I finish this blog assignment, I’m going to check out the page and see if there’s any resources that I can incorporate into my unit plan.

SESSION #4: Read It, and Then We Won’t Talk About It by Ninna Roth from MSU

This session was helpful, although we had some technical issues and started fairly late. Prof. Roth, like the other sessions, had us participate in reading and writing exercises to illustrate the importance of discussion in literature. She talked about the importance of, as a teacher, being open with your students about your history and background. For example, she said that when she has her students read The Watson’s Go to Birmingham, she tells them about how she grew up in poverty and how specific parts of the book really touch her because she can emotionally connect to it. We also read a portion of The Giver and talked about how different background experiences of the reader can influence the way he or she reads the text.

I think due to the technical problems we had in the beginning, Prof. Roth didn’t quite get to the importance of what her session was supposed to teach us. However, I feel like she brought up some useful points about leading class discussions and talking about difficult issues (race, homosexuality, war, ect.) that will be useful to me in my future classroom.

Overall, I really enjoyed the MCTE conference. I left MSU excited about becoming an English teacher someday, and my mom and I spent the whole car ride home to my house (about 30 minutes) reflecting on the day and the great ideas we learned. I can’t wait for next year!

Exceptional students suffer under standardization

This article makes me really sad. Jayne, a mother of a mentally disabled 8th grader named Sam, vents her frustration about standardized testing in her blog. The testing seems to go against everything that we are future teachers are being taught: every students is different and has different needs.

Doing the best you can
by Jayne
in her blog, Journey Through Grace

This coming week, kids all over America will be subjected to standardized tests to determine what they know (or how well teachers have taught to the test). We use the CRCT in Georgia. The problem is that the CRCT is very gray in its content and requires a good bit of inference. Not good when your child is more of the black and white persuasion. Just attending to three hours of testing a day is struggle enough, but imagine if you felt deflated from the get go because you didn’t understand how the questions were worded. Can you turn to the teacher for help? Nope, because then it’s not standardized. For a disabled perfectionist, it must be overwhelmingly frustrating. For my disabled perfectionist, it causes way too much undo stress. Oh, and did we mention that if kids in your school don’t do well, we’ll add you to our “didn’t make AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) list” because you know we are all about the current administration’s NCLB (No Child Left Behind) policy. So, consequently, teacher’s and school administrator’s jobs are dependent on how well their students do on this one test. It’s insane.

We have all sorts of modifications in place written into his IEP. Sam gets one on one monitoring, he’s able to take frequent breaks, the instructions can be repeated to him, and he’s able to answer in the booklet instead of having to bubble in an answer sheet. But still, he usually fails miserably. Doesn’t matter that he makes all A’s and B’s with his daily school work, only how he performs on this one test. If you opt out of your Special Ed child taking this test, they can’t get a regular ed diploma and truly are supposed to be so impaired that they require instruction in a self-contained classroom. Well, that’s not us either. It’s so very frustrating that there is no alternative assessment for kids like mine. I hate that his score will pull down the school’s overall rating, but what can we do?

I asked them if he does not do well if he won’t be allowed on to the ninth grade, and they all just smiled and said, “We as the IEP team determine his placement.” In other words, they really don’t care how he does. They’d love to see him meet the standard, but he’ll go on to high school regardless. So basically, I’ve told him, as he’s started stressing about Monday to just read each question carefully and choose what he thinks is the best answer. It’s all I can ask of him. Sometimes you just do the best you can.

I really think these tests are a waste of everyone’s time – never mind the stress on students and teachers.

Honestly, I think it’s a farce that educating children – any one child – can be standardized. Certain kids will fit into that mold, but the majority won’t. And shouldn’t be expected to.

GRRRR!

Hope Sam doesn’t stress too much.

Laura seemed to hit it right on: standardization implies that all students are the same! They all learn the same way, retain the same amount of information, handle test anxiety in the same manner, come from the same home life. It’s ridiculous. There has to be a better way of assessing what students know.

I can see this directly effecting my English classroom someday. Perhaps I will have some remedial students, students with ADHD, or just your general at-risk youth from poor home environments. Throughout the year, I will be scaffolding them. Modeling effective reading and writing processes and choosing books I think they will enjoy and that will allow them to connect to the text. I will be (hopefully) fostering in them a love for reading and writing, or if not that much, at least a functional literacy for adult life. But then the standardized tests will come, and exactly like Jayne said, there will be no room for questions, no scaffolding, and no teacher who’s aware of the student’s particular needs to accommodate them. It’s just the students and the test booklets. From there, the students will probably do poorly on the test, the scores will be reported to the parents, who will be angry about the scores—they’ll probably ridicule the child for being “dumb” or not “trying.” OR, the parents will tear into me, questioning my ability as a teacher for preparing their child. It’s a lose-lose situation for both the student and myself.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I will have a few extremely gifted students in my classroom. Throughout the year I will be pushing them to think creatively, analytically, and “outside the box.” I will give them challenging books to read, and provide them with scaffolding to increase their literacy and comprehension skills. And then standardized test days arrives for these students. Some might do very well, if they are strong, level-headed test takers. Others might be very capable, but suffer from test anxiety, like most students. Or, these students might be punished for their creative thought in responding to the writing portion of the test, for example, if there answer doesn’t fit with the “norm” of students taking the test.

Again, it all goes back to the idea that each student is an individual. Why do we have to measure them all the using the same method across the board?

I believe every student learns differently; therefore, I will have to make sure my teaching style targets the many different angles of learning. Standardized testing only targets one angle.

“Assessment coach” in charge of coordinating standardized testing

This article appealed to me because it shows just how emotionally and physically draining standardizing testing is on not only the students who take the exams, but also on the teachers who have to administer them.  Kate Salerno has an even more difficult role.  She is the designated “assessment coach”—or coordinator—of the all the standardized testing at Falls Church High School in Fairfax County, Virginia.  The article explains how Salerno deals with testing, as well as describes a process they call “jamming” before the exams.

 Assessment coach always being tested
article from The Washington Post,
published in The Citizen, Auburn NY
Friday, April 13th, 2007

Once upon a time, each teacher decided when to give a test. No one ever thought of having a full-time overseer such as Salerno. But schools are bigger, courses are more demanding and teachers are resigned to the fact that if they do not coordinate every lesson and test, students will slip through the cracks and show up on test results as bad news. This school year, Salerno is supervising more than 4,300 state tests for a school of 1,400 students. Each test is a potential headache.

For the past two years, Salerno has collaborated with 11th-grade English team leader Patrick Mohan in administering the SOL writing tests, completed earlier this year, and the upcoming reading tests. They agree on students having a 45-minute review right before every SOL test, which further complicates the test schedule.

“You might call it a cram,” she said, “but we call it a jam,” in honor of the school mascot, the jaguar. There are several jams, including a 130-minute review session for students retaking an SOL exam, listed on the two-page schedule she prints out for staffers.

 view complete article

The fact that teachers have to “cram” students for the tests literally right before them sounds horrible to me.  All throughout my educational career I’ve heard “don’t cram!” and “study an hour a day—it’s more effective than the night before!”  Yet here’s a school that’s literally reviewing/cramming students moments before the big exam.  Using what I’ve learned in my educational psychology class this semester, students only have a certain amount of “working memory” space.  Even if the students are supposed to have learned the information ahead of time, and this is just a “review” session, chances are as a teacher you’re going to overwhelming and cluttering the minds of several students.

It’s sad that teachers don’t get a say in what’s important and what’s not when it comes to teaching students.  Standardized tests seem to mandate everything.  If the national government really wants to hold education to higher standards, I think maybe they should hold teachers to higher standards.  Now, this is not to say that I want my administrator someday breathing down my neck constantly about the quality of my teaching.  I just think that our country should hold our educators accountable for educating students—I’m paying several thousand dollars right now to learn how to be an educator.  In the end, I would like to think I will be able to perform my job responsibilities: educating my students in the best possible way to benefit them as adults.  Standardized testing is not the answer…

Conversations about Testing

It was Tuesday evening on my Alternative Breaks spring break trip nearly a month ago, and I was volunteering at an after-school program at a local elementary school in Beaumont, Texas. 

One of the teachers in charge of the program looked barely older than me, and seemed somewhat “new” to the school and program. (I could tell this because she didn’t really talk to anyone during the dinner-activities we did.)  I introduced myself to her as one of the site leaders for our group, and began talking with her about the school and the program, FAST (Families and Schools Together), that we were working with.  Some how we got on the topic of teaching and education (I told her I was going into education), and I learned some really interesting facts about standardized testing in Texas that pertain to my blog.

In Texas, students MUST PASS the state administered standardized test at the end of each grade level in order to move to the next grade

In talking to this young teacher, I couldn’t believe what she was telling me.  I immediatley started asking her all the questions I’ve had in my head while working on this blog.  What is your curriculum like?  What do parents think?  How do you prepare students?  Do you have any say in your curriculum?  Questions just seemed to fly out of my mouth, and she answered them the best she could.

Now, obviously, I did not quote her by any means, but the conversation is still pretty vivid in my head because I found it so amazing.  Basically, she said that as teachers, their job is to teach to the test.  If their students don’t pass the test, they are retained and must repeat the grade over the following year.  She said there is a lot of pressure placed on teachers to prepare the students well, so much of their lessons revolve around practice tests and prompted writing assignments.  I also remember her saying that testing is taken very seriously by the teachers and students alike. 

She asked me what kind of standardized testing Michigan has, and I told her a little about the MEAP.  She couldn’t believe that our student’s weren’t retained for failing the MEAP (in all cases except for 11th grade).  I explained to her that some students recieve scholarship money towards college if they do well on the 11th grade MEAP, but there really aren’t any reprocussions if a student does poorly.  I also told her that many parents are opposed to testing and will actually hold their students at home for the duration of the MEAP.  Obviously, this wouldn’t go over very well in Texas where the student must pass a test each year to move to the next grade.

Although my conversation with her lasted at most 10 minutes, I learned a great deal about the different ways testing can be viewed.  Most student in Michigan probably view the MEAP as stupid or pointless(I know I did), whereas the students in Texas probably view their statewide test much like college-bound students view the ACT/SATs.  To them, testing determines the next step of their future.

This is not to say that testing students to allow them to continue to the next grade level is a positive program (becuase personally, I think it’s a horrible idea).  But at least this conversation I had shows how seriously some students, teachers, and entire states take standardized testing.  For teachers in Texas, it seems that teaching to the test is the sole purpose within their classroom.  

School holds daily free-reading ritual

Okay, this article doesn’t apply to my topic, but I think it’s too interesting to pass up, so I had to throw in a quick blog about it.

This Middle School principal in Maine is being recognized for improving discipline problems in her school.  She has also implemented some changes within her school to make the building feel like a “community.”  Look at what she did to promote reading within this community:

Principal sets the standard
by Noel K. Gallagher, journalist
Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram
March 15, 2007

WHERE READING MATTERS

With fewer discipline problems, the students and teachers are better able to focus on learning, Brink said. She also is praised for instituting a mandatory 20-minute reading period every day for everyone in the building — from the secretaries and school nurse to the teachers and all students.

“Everyone loves that,” Brink said of the 9:40 a.m. ritual.

“Parents know not to come by the school because we won’t buzz a student out of class during that time. And it has helped our reading levels.”

Marsha Reny, who has taught English at the school for 18 years, said Brink has made a big change.

view complete article

Just thought I’d share…