Archive for the ‘assessment’ Category

The Final Bell

February 18, 2008

Should we pass kids just for sitting in a chair? What does it means to be a real teacher in a data-driven world? I think we must learn how to reach and support kids in spite of the data addiction currently gripping, choking, American education, an addiction, which if we are not careful, can lead us to put the grade before the kid.

What is the mythical point of contact between the idea of fully supporting a kid and the idea of honestly assessing them? Assessment has always confused all of us most of the time – it is so arbitrary.

In some teachers, assessment actually overtakes the classroom, and no real teaching occurs. That is a dark thing. It is why so many like Tolstoy and others couldn’t deal with school, seeing it as endless drudgery filled with mindless boring tasks, to paraphrase the great Russian master.

When in February I sign a paper allowing a failing student to register for French II at the high school, I do so in order to keep the plant alive. If the plant dies,a simple email to the high school in May if the plant shows it has died straightens things out. But this rarely happens, because I water the plant.

Those who refuse to sign the sign up slip for next year in the interests of “just being honest with the kid” forget that they are doing it in the middle of the year. Why do that? The year is only half over. My job is to teach the kid and not the curriculum all year long. My job is to teach kids French in that order. My job is to do all I can to give these kids an experience of what it feels like to succeed. I know I am not alone.

I don’t care a fig about analyzing the student and all of that stuff. I can’t control any of that. I can only control the teacher part. I can only control what I do in my classroom. I succeed or fail in teaching my students to the degree that I am able to open up my heart, not my head, to the kids, and to support them as people first and students second, as precious jewels and not data bots.

I can only keep loving and supporting each and every last pierced gothic freak and superstar soccer player no matter what, all the way up to that final assessment when I REALLY find out how much they have learned, which is when I finalize what level they should be in. 

Any discussion about assessment brings up a great opportunity to remind each other on this list about the related point of what Blaine says about weighing pigs – you can’t make those porkers grow any faster by weighing them more often.

So, why don’t we just actually DO CPI during the weeks and months leading up to the final end of year assessments, seriously minimizing tests, and then letting those big bad boys – the end of year common and district assessments – naturally select out who should go to the next level, à la Ted Sizer? If we do massive slow CPI now in February, we won’t have to do frenetic CPR later. I apologize for that bad pun. No I don’t.

We need to remember in this discussion that if a kid is doing their best imitation of a potted plant in our classes, that there are reasons for that: stuff going on at home, being only fifteen years old in present day America (I am still scared and I have been here a lot longer than that), not connecting with the drudgery of school, etc.

We can’t play the failing card on them in February! That’s all they need – another reason to not want to get out of bed in the morning,in the harsh light of winter yet, another class to cross off, another adult to mistrust, another room to become a plant in.

When we fail them by not signing their forms for the next level, we become sheep eating flowers arbitrarily. But sheep do such things out of ignorance and we have no such excuse. That is why I sign those forms waiting for that end of year assessment to make the decision about next year’s level for me. To keep the plant alive as long as possible, by never taking anything they do or say or fail to do for me personally.

So I am just going to continue to place my focus more and more and still yet more on loving and supporting kids even if they have gnarly snarkification assessmentos zits.  We love and support kids, and we don’t get into the details.

After all, we have TPRS to do help us do that, and so we are WAY AHEAD of the game. We are in a ball park that many teachers don’t even know exists, bless their hearts.

So let us not waste our time getting into arguments about defining assessment and passing and failing and input and output and all that. We have our end of year exams to decide those things for us. How dare we focus on anything else but the student? How dare we forget our real callings as teachers, to help kids become (not necessarily fluent in French) but better human beings.

I will not apologize for the self esteem movement, nor on the other hand will I lie to kids about grades. But I sure as hell will make my tests easy during the year so that they can experience some success and want to pay attention in my classroom.

Then, deftly holding off until June, only then will I nudge them gently and with loving kindness away from the next level of study if the testing gods so decree. Of course there is a place for tests, but to me during the year they should be just easy little things.

Teachers who have already written kids off now in February because they are assessment nazis deserve the loud snoring and springtime desk drooling of the kids they have written off when they refuse to support those kids all the way up to the final bell.


Laurie Clarcq

February 11, 2008

Few TPRS listserve posts have inspired me like post #90514 from Laurie Clarcq, from which I have here pulled a few gems. In this text, Laurie absolutely gets to the soul of teaching.

Another Laura had said on the list: “I, their teacher, have not yet figured out how to …keep the ones at the front and the back all on the same train.”

Laurie responded first to that common idea that everybody learns at the same pace:

“Well….actually….that is an illusion that education is trying to sell us and the public we serve. That doesn’t happen. Never has. Never will. Not in the classroom. Not in the church service. Not even at the most frenetic concert of fans. Someone will always be off in their own little world.”

Then Laurie brought up an idea that is very close to my heart – that of staying in the moment with the kids, the fear, all of it:

“The great thing about teaching is that we have the chance…once in a while…to reach out and bring [unconscious kids] back in…if not into the lesson…then at least back into the moment with us.

“It’s about the MOMENT.

“That’s why slow enough is important. So the moments don’t rush by.

“That is why Personalization is so vital. So the moment connects with the recipient.

“Learning, true learning, is about the world communicating itself with the mind, the heart, the soul.

“This is what TPRS allows us to do. And grading has little to nothing to do with it.”

In the above comment Laurie is shredding the entire idea of evaluating kids. She suggests that evaluation is a complete farce, done only as a received idea and because we have to. Laurie states that, in the true world, data is never going to communicate one speck of how much is actually learned by a child.

If one were to reflect on it, there is deafening research now that the tell and test method of grading is REALLY off, that since the kids forget what they learned for the test within twenty-four hours, it is really a bogus instrument. Such research supports Laurie’s point here, that learning is not really something that can be measured.

In this next gem, Laurie suggests that the real purpose of teaching, grading, all of it, is simply to keep the kid in the room. To keep the kid connected to something that has meaning. To keep the kid involved in something interesting. Any teacher that does that cannot be said to have failed a child. Thus:

“That is why you don’t want them to leave the language classroom. That would be soooooo many moments lost.”

“This too is the knowledge, the truth to keep in your heart, and to communicate with your students every chance you get.

This next paragraph suggests that we cannot use grades to force kids to learn, that education cannot be forced on anyone but must and will be received by the learner as a conscious choice that they make.

“School is a GAME. Education is found, accepted, or taken…not given. No one can give you knowledge. They can give you information, theories, insights and their own conclusions…..but until the student takes it, and responsibility for it , on their own…it is not acquisition. It’s not knowledge. It’s not anything. It’s just equipment in the GAME.

“There are some good, actually excellent, reasons for playing the game and playing it well. Certainly there are many many social, personal, and financial benefits. But it is not soul-defining. It’s not value-inducing.

“It’s the moments that take place during the game that make playing it truly valuable…and those very rarely (at least in my 26 years of playing…) the result of a great lesson plan.

“They are almost always the result of connection and communication.

“Now that is all well and good in theory. How about reality? We are all left to our own individual and professional devices. You know your students and your system. Follow your heart. Lead with your convictions. But be careful not to sacrifice anyone in the process…especially yourself.

Those last two words must not be overlooked. Too many teachers trash their own lives in some kind of frenzy to please others. We must take care not to sacrifice ourselves in the grading and assessment game, which is a point that I hope came through in a few of my recent listserve posts about assessment – that simplifying how we grade is, in the current climate throughout our nation, a necessary thing.

“So I do my grades as honestly as possible. And then I get back to the moments.”

Thank you so much, Laurie, for speaking so with such bravery in a data-driven world. I certainly am not going to stop giving tests, because I want a paycheck, but I am going to trust even yet more what my intuition has been screaming at me all these years, that we are there in those classrooms for those kids and nothing else.

Elaine’s Good Question

February 8, 2008

In a listserve post (#90219) about how I assess kids who are very weak in either auditory (stories) or vocabulary list memorization (visual), I had written the following:
“These accommodations are an earned privilege. Of course, in 504 type situations, I must accommodate. With primarily auditory kids, my accommodations reflect a complete absence of the district vocabulary tests on their grade. On the other hand, with primarily visual learners, my accommodations reflect just the opposite – an absence of grades connected to our auditory work.

“Grading kids on their strengths, visual or auditory, and not their weaknesses, brings a lot of good will from parents and kids and eliminates a lot of needless conflict for me. My job is their success. But such arrangements are not available to kids who have the ability to learn the vocabulary lists but are just too lazy to do so.”

Then Elaine wrote to me:

“Okay, please explain this. How do you accommodate the auditory learners and how do you accommodate the visual learners. Please explain the details of these arrangements… And, on average, about how many students each year do you make time for these arrangements?”

So I wrote back to her:

“Our first parent conferences are in October each year. By then I know if a kid is weak in either listening (low story grades) or in visual learning (memorization of vocabulary lists outside of class). If the kid is trying (key point) and just can’t do it, I look in the computer, print the grades, bring them to the parent conference, and, if the parents and the child feel it is best for the child to not feel the pressure of either taking tests on stories or memorizing, whichever they are weak at, I ask the parents about the kid’s history, learning style, etc. and with the parent and kid involved, we all agree to simply not grade story tests if they are visual and not grade vocabulary memorization tests if they are more auditory. It keeps the kid in the class instead of losing them at the trimester. Remember, this is for kids who want to succeed only, who are willing to work. When these kids pass my class when otherwise they would have flunked it, they go to the second level where it is all grammar at the high school and they of course have been trained in book learning by so many other teachers so they get their two year requirement in, which is at least one goal we have as language teachers, to prepare the kid for college. The total number of kids this year on this plan is four, last year there were three, etc.”

Then Elaine said:

“…. and do you keep this as a secret between the student, parent and you?”

And I said:

“Yes, normally it is a secret. But I have found that it is a matter of respect. Most kids don’t need the accommodation and they know it. They know that they have the ability, so they leave it alone, even if the accommodation goes to a friend. They are happy to see their friend succeed. It is pretty rare that I do this – I only do it to keep a kid in my program who otherwise would have been bumped out. Most of the kids go on and get B’s and even A’s in the book based programs at the high school! Most of them are visual learners. They just needed a little help through the crazy Slavic first year in eighth grade with all the auditory insanity.”

Then Elaine asked:

“What does the student do when you are testing everybody…take the test too and pretend like they are going to be graded too?” 

I responded:

“Oh yes, they actually WANT to take it, because, knowing it isn’t graded, they don’t have any pressure and they do have their pride. Remember, this deal is for motivated kids only. Many of them do a lot better on those tests than regular lazy kids, because they DO study and take it seriously, they just have the weak area there.”

Elaine then observed:

“I have several students that really do try but just can’t perform because they are different kinds of smarts.”

I loved that sentence. It is so true. I responded:

“Yup! This is a good way to deal with them, bless their hearts.”

Frequent Quizzes

December 22, 2007

Students are very good at looking as if they understand – it is their job. In order to keep everybody honest, I highly recommend giving them very frequent short assessments of five minutes or so at the end of each story and each reading class.

Without such daily assessments, you can emerge after a few weeks with a skewed idea of what some of the less communicative students actually know. The quality of classes with frequent assessment is better, as well, because the kids are being held accountable, which is our job.

Simple translation or true/false quizzes of around eight to twelve words are best. Use a rubric and simplify your life! And when the kids get high grades because they paid attention, they are happy, because nothing motivates like success!