Just wanted to share some thoughts…I’m at a conference in Dallas this week to learn how to help teachers with designing engaging work for students. It’s been great so far, but the one thing that keeps popping up in conversation with teachers that are here continues to be the argument that we can’t create engaging work because we don’t have time. Teachers say that their time is occupied with preparing for the state-based assessment. This particular district (like many others in Texas), prepares students for the TAKS by testing them in various areas (i.e. reading, math, writing, science) every 9 weeks to see how they are doing. Oh, and they also have unit tests, spelling tests, reading level assessments, and the list goes on and on. I guess if we test the kids enough, they’ll do better on the state assessment, right?!
I’ve heard that you can’t grow a prize pig/pumpkin/(fill in with an appropriate agricultural product here for the County Fair) by continually weighing it. I think that’s a good analogy for what we’re doing to our kids. We spend so much time on assessment that I wonder if we really cover content. One of the things we heard at this conference was eye-opening for me. I guess I’ve heard it before, but it didn’t really hit me as significant, until this time. I hope I can convey it as I heard it…think about a scenario where we really worked hard at engaging kids and suddenly 90% or more of our students mastered the objectives we cover each year. What would teachers think? parents? other students? Would the response be that we’ve finally helped every child to succeed? or would it more likely be that we lowered our standards? You see, my kid only looks good because your kid does poorly on the assessment. If there is no “assessment” then how can we measure the kids against each other? And really, what does the constant assessing do for us? We get to figure out how to rank the students from good to bad, then we concentrate our resources on the “bubble” kids–those students who are hovering on the pass/fail mark. We don’t have to worry about the “good” kids because they will perform well, in spite of us. We don’t really worry about the low students because there isn’t much we can do in a year to bring them up to passing. So we focus on the bubble students, because that will get us the most improvement in our scores.
I can hear the protests now–“that’s not what we do! We focus on helping all of our students succeed!!” Sure, that’s what we say, but what do we practice? If you look at where the resources (money, time, people) are being allocated, we really do focus on helping those students who can improve to improve. Think about it…what do we hear most about? Test scores and how we can improve them.
Which brings me back to the question I started pondering about–where do we find the time to engage students when we have to be ready for the state assessment? Maybe the question should be–how can we NOT find the time to engage students! It’s hard to believe, but if we actually did focus on engaging students on the content in a high-level manner, the assessment would take care of itself. It’s up to us as instructors to design work that so engages students that they WANT to learn–what a concept! So how do we engage students? Well, there are a number of ways, but one of the ways is to utilize the technologies we’ve been blogging and podcasting about. Educators talk about creating real-world experiences for students–well, it doesn’t get any more “real-world”, than to use the tools that are current and important in students’ lives today. Instead of blocking and banning social networking tools, figure out how to use them to your advantage. We have to meet kids where they are, and we can’t wait 50 years for these tools to catch on in the teaching profession. The time is now–embrace and engage.
*These are my views, but they came about as a result of the work that Phil Schlechty has been sharing at our conference. I hope to blog more about some of the key concepts we’ve been learning about, as this helps me work through my learning. Click here to download a pdf of an interview with Phil that summarizes his philosophy. Check out his website or email me if you want to know more.
btw…my 5 things post is coming soon…