Wednesday, March 30, 2016

PicLit from
See the full PicLit at This is a great application for teaching kids parts of speech in a fun and creative way. Especially during poetry month, this would be a fun to let kids work on both poetry, parts of speech and imagery! They will love it. You do have to have an account to generate an embed code or save it and email it to someone. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Unpacking the TN READY Communication from the TN DOE

Commissioner McQueen has published two pieces to try to calm the wave of bad publicity that is washing over the DOE on the basis of what parents are seeing and hearing from students and teachers about the paper TN READY test which replaced the failed computer administered version.

I first read her blog for parents: Classroom Chronicles which is an explanation for parents about the failure of TN Ready an attempt to calm fears about the paper tests.  She says, "We too are frustrated and disappointed by our inability to provide students with an online test this year and by the logistical difficulties. We have been working tirelessly to provide a positive testing experience as much as is within our control and to reduce anxiety."  Really?  Will the DOE have their salaries cut or be fired because of their failure on the testing front?  They tie teachers success and failure every day to things that are beyond that teacher's control! Why not apply the same standard to yourselves?

Then  Dr. McQueen provides a form for parents to give them a sense of significant participation.  The form however only asks how the parent would like to receive their child's test scores.   Parents are asked to weigh in on crucial issues such as whether to report data in smiley faces, arrows, or symbols!  This appears to be a simple way to make people feel that they are part of a process.  In truth, it is like asking a man on trial for familial abuse, "when did you stop beating your kids."

What I DO KNOW is this:  I know NO teachers who:
  1.  think this test is a good measure of student learning 
  2. participated in its formation. 
  3. have ever felt free to participate in a frank conversation it with any forum where their names and places of employment are readily seen. 

The second Classroom Chronicles blog post is supposed to dispell any of the issues raised by students, parents and teachers.

She addresses the issues raised by a number of concerned educators that the content was not appropriate for the students.  The following is a quote which further illustrates just how far removed the people who designed the test are from children!

"A very small number of questions on Part I require students to have had exposure to other mathematical content that may not actually count toward their score. For example, students may have seen a word problem that mentions a concept that they will learn more about later – like angles or ounces– but students will not be scored on their knowledge of this content. These concepts may just be used to provide context for a computational skill (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Additional questions may require students to pull from previously learned content knowledge. As this is content that is below grade level, it would not appear on the grade level specific blueprint."

Imagine back to your eight-year-old self.  Much of what your teacher is teaching is just not too interesting to you, but you know there is this TEST coming up and you really should care about learning this stuff because it is on the test and your teacher is stressed about how you are going to do and your parents talk about how if you don't do well on the tests it will ruin your life.  Imagine for a moment that you are now reading a test question in which something right there in the midddle of it suddenly looks like a foreign language.   Do you have the intellectual ability to read the rest of the question and calm yourself sufficiently to determine that the question is not about the DNA helix but is a simple addition problem?  You get my point.  Yes if it is asking you to use cm instead of inches to measure and you have in the standard learned to use inches and you are an adult looking at the picture of a little ruler next to the question in cm you will understand how to solve the simple problem.  BUT THESE ARE CHILDREN!!

Most of them do not have the experience in solving problems to know how to approach this.  They will feel a sense of panic and collapse under the weight of the foreign words "angles" alone!  Add to that that nowhere does it say in the directions we heard read to the children (remember the administrator can only read the directions --- they cannot offer explanations because that might taint the test) to help children understand the question is considered leading the child to the right answer. NOWHERE IN THOSE DIRECTIONS DOES IT TELL CHILDREN THAT, "Hey, some of these questions may be on stuff you haven't had and those won't even count or be graded!"  How reasonable is it to assume that when you cover your classroom walls to hide every possible thing a kid might use to do well on the test -- and everyone is in a lock-down version of life (guarding test booklets, pencils and answer books as though they were radioactive) Does anyone think that a child is going to consider for a moment that some of the questions won't even count?  REALLY?

Dr. McQueen goes on to explain how reasonable the actual test was.  NEVER mind that the answer document (they called it a document, in the directions- now that is a word kids use every day, right?) looked almost identical to the test document! The whole thing was confusing to children from beginning to end.  MOST especially the vocabulary used in the directions..From an adult point of view Dr. McQueen is quite right --- it would be difficult to get mixed up about what answer went with what question.  These are CHILDREN not adults and I, as a proctor, can attest to the fact that the 3rd graders I was with were confused.  My last point is simple.  WHAT ARE THE TESTS designed to do?  If it is to help us see where to improve our instruction fine I'm good with that, but tests are misused to judge children and teachers everyday. 

They discourage educational innovation and good practice because my colleagues are always worrying about the specific things that must be covered on the test.  So with the garden in full grow mode, with the wild creatures and native plants that inhabit the perimeter of my campus budding and growing, with the night sky waiting, and the life bursting forth all around, we will be in the classroom drilling instead of out in the world writing, reading poetry, planting, wondering, exploring, and asking those impossible childhood questions.

 I AM CALLING FOR AN OVERHAUL in how we hold PUBLIC SCHOOLS accountable.  I AM CALLING FOR AN OVERHAUL that lets teachers be teachers so they are able to do what they do best with children.  Yes, that may even look different from one teacher to another teacher!  YES, teachers are as individual as students. They don't all teach the same way, understand the same way or participate in the universe in a monolithic pattern of teacher behavior!    PLEASE Dr. McQueen, I know you are young and you think you have these things down --- but listen to some seasoned educators on this topic!  Are you listening!! 

Sunday, March 06, 2016

What is a hero?

Third Grade wanted to merge two concepts for Black History Month.  Students could research famous African Americans and then measure them against a rubric of what makes a hero. I could not in good conscience do a simple webpage with the people on their list. So instead I tried to accommodate by broadening the site and creating a Good Citizen Rubric as well as a Hero RubricHeroes come in all colors was the result as was the accompanying Symbaloo for African American History Month

In our current culture we conflate the hero with celebrity. We carelessly toss this word around and in so doing we we weaken its meaning and message. When we call everyone who has served in the military a hero we risk including skin heads, bigots and those who have committed war crimes on the same list with those selfless souls who have given their lives and bodies in the service of humanity.

If, as Campbell suggests, the hero myth is designed to lead us to our better selves then the hero returns home carrying something of  the treasure.  It is the  "treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed."

This is why we yearn to teach the hero story to our children.  We want the world to be a place where power is distributed and the well being of all creation is the ultimate arbiter of our actions.   Sometimes in a world where kids pick Beyonce, and Kanye West as their heroes I tremble.....