In California public schools, 2014 is a very unique year. Because we are moving towards adopting Common Core State Standards next year, the state decided that we will not take our old standardized test, the CST, this year. Students will sit for a computerized version of the CCSS Smarter Balance test to “test out the test,” but no individual or school data will be released. In my school, this means…
Last year was my first year teaching. The pressure on students, teachers, and administrators to do well on the CST was incredible. My school is traditionally low-performing and has been classified as “Program Improvement” for a number of years, which means a lot is on the line if we don’t do well on tests. Though my job evaluations isn’t formally tied to my students’ performance, it was very clear that how they did would reflect me as a teacher. Practically the whole year, but especially January onward, was focused on preparing students for the test. We lost a lot of instruction time to practice tests and teaching testing technique. Students as young as 7 felt the same pressure as teachers: that how they did on the test reflected how “valuable” they are as students. On the day of the test, students were visibly nervous. One student cried for three hours as he scratched all the yellow off of his #2 pencil. I was told I was not allowed to let him stop testing.
This year is a completely different experience. This time last year, we were busy with the final push of test prep. This year, we are busy creating complex projects where students can utilize and display their knowledge. We know our year goes until June and not just until test day, so we don’t have to cram knowledge like we did last year. Students seem more excited about school: both because the work is actually thought-provoking, and because they aren’t just learning in order to improve their test scores. If anything, teachers are working harder, not less: they too are motivated by the freedom.
And the bottom line is…students are still learning. If anything, they are learning more. Politicians and the public believe that we need to test kids to hold teachers “accountable.” That if there were no tests, students would sit around all day doing who knows what. From my experience, that just isn’t the case.
The vast majority of teachers want what is best for their students, and will work hard to make learning a dynamic experience. If anything, testing made teachers lazier: it honestly is not that difficult to teach test-taking strategies. Copy worksheets and passages, hand out pencils, lead students through finding “trickster” and “stinker” options, and you’re golden. By freeing teachers from this routine, I believe you get much higher-quality instruction. I believe in teachers.
Of course, this year also carries a sense of impending doom. Our test-free window will end on the first day of school next year. By next April, students and teachers will again be facing the high pressure of standardized testing. Within a few years, teachers and administrators will have mastered how to teach to this new test, and we will return to our old routines.
I wish policy makers would really reflect on this year in California. Come visit our schools and talk to our students and teachers. See the effects of not testing our kids. Use this year as an example of what is possible when we do away with high-stakes testing.
I have an ever-growing classroom library, and I am constantly on the lookout for new books. The kids see the library as ours. My students do not generally have many (or any) books at home, and they are allowed to borrow classroom books at will. I’ve written about purchasing books here, and about how I organize my library here.
I’m sure my classroom is like most classrooms…there is never enough time during the day to accomplish everything we need to do. Many teachers cut out independent reading time to fit in more test prep or scripted programs. However, I ensure that my students get at least 20 minutes (and sometimes upward of 45 minutes) of independent reading time a day. I also teach them to fill in any extra minutes with reading. They pull out a book as soon as they enter the classroom. I don’t give “early finisher” filler worksheets…instead, students read. Students keep books right by their desks so they have easy access at all times.
While students need a lot of time to read by themselves, they also need to be taught best reading practices. I use a modified version of "The Cafe Book" and the CAFE wall to teach how good readers read.
I use read alouds to model and practice reading skills, and then have students independently practice these skills during Reading Workshop and even our Writing block.
For example, I taught about summarizing by first modeling the skill, then having students practice as a group as we read aloud, then having students practice using their independent reading books, and finally each student wrote their own summary paragraph of a chosen book.
I’m proud to say that my students love to read. They look forward to reading every day, and read a lot independently. I believe this is because I treat reading as an enjoyable activity, not a chore. I act excited to show them new books I’ve acquired and read aloud books. I encourage them to share favorite books with each other.
This post will totally self-destruct, but just found out my 4th graders who started the year at an average reading level of 2nd grade, 7 months are now reading at an average of 4th grade, 5 months. Only one month away from being on grade level!
I could tell from reading with them that they have improved tremendously, and they are so much more into reading. Most of them came in hating reading, and now they can’t get enough of it. That’s the important thing, but sometimes it’s a relief to have numbers back up what I know inside.
1,000 Followers! When I started this Tumblr, I thought of it as a place to record my own thoughts. I never set out to have followers, and never imagined having even 10.
That said, I feel so fortunate to be part of this Tumblr Education community. I know I’ve become a better teacher through reading others’ posts and reflecting on my own practices, and hope I’ve helped others, too.
If anyone ever has a question or wants to know more, please feel free to message me!
We have been studying geometry. As a final project review, students found all the geometry in their names. It was a great way for them to review concepts and vocabulary and connect an academic concept to things they see around them, and they loved the activity because it was about them.
I hung them on the sides of their desks because we’ve run out of wall space!
I don’t want anyone to mistake my views, I post on this a lot because I care a lot, I’ve been caring what other people think a lot instead of standing firm, and I’m going to post this as a declaration- I am against Teach For America and actively working to bring it down.
I don’t care that there…
This is a great explanation, and I agree 100%. I hope other teachers (Tumblr and otherwise) keep resisting.
Recently, my fourth graders and I have been talking a lot about gender expectations, stereotypes, and roles. They seemed to get the “Big Idea”: boys and girls can do the same things, it’s wrong to stereotype, etc. However, I still didn’t think they fully understood how gender affects the everyday decisions they make.
Most teachers know that boys and girls tend to read different books. In fact, teachers probably play a big role in this: we talk about books as “boy” books, suggest certain books for kids based on gender, and I know some teachers who even sort their books by gender category. My goal was to help my students reflect on how gender affects their reading habits.
I put students into groups of two (some same gender, some mixed gender) and had students fold a paper into three columns and write “Boy”, “Girl”, and “Either”. I then gave them old Scholastic Book Order catalogs. The only instructions I gave them was to cut out “Boy” books, “Girl” books, and books for “Either.”
I gave them at least 20 minutes to sort. They got really into it, and it was interesting to listen to their conversations. Students seemed to find “girl” books easily, but there was more disagreement over “boy” books because many of my male students were quick to put books in that category, but my female students also liked the books.
We then got together and had a class discussion. I asked them how they sorted their books, what genres seemed to fit in different categories, and how things like title and cover color affected their choices. We then talked about times they had wanted to read a book that had read a “boy” or “girl” book, times they had been told they weren’t allowed to choose one (MANY students had stories!), and why we think these stereotypes exist and why book manufacturers and others play into them.
I told them that, in this classroom, they are free to read whichever books they wanted. I encouraged them to read a book they felt like they weren’t allowed to read because they though it was for the other gender. In the week since the lesson, I’ve seen boys read “American Girl” and “Magic Kitten” books, and more girls pick up “I Survived…” books. I’ve also been more mindful in my book suggestions to kids.
All in all, the activity took about 45 minutes, and I’d recommend it to all elementary or reading teachers!
Asked by imteachingduckstoquack-deactiva
Thank you for your kind words, even if we disagree on TFA. I want to be clear that my opinion on TFA is not based on one bad teacher. I actually don’t teach with any TFA teachers (they aren’t in my district), and a number of my friends are TFA. My college roommate was TFA in New Orleans, and she’s one of my favorite people.
Despite liking many people associated with the program, I believe the program has huge fundamental flaws and is actively working to destroy public education. As someone who believes very strongly in our public education system, I can’t support that. If you’re interested, I could explain more about why I believe that. Many other people have written eloquently about the subject, too. Google “Teach For America critique” or read Learning On Other People’s Kids.
Many people who criticize TFA take fault with the organization, but excuse TFA teachers. My personal opinion is that when people “enlists”, it’s their responsibility to research what they’re joining. If they decide to give two years of their lives to an organization they haven’t researched, I think that’s foolish. If they join TFA knowing its flaws, I think they’re a (small) part of the problem.
If people are interested in becoming teachers, I believe it is imperative they get proper training. Just as a doctor needs to go to Medical School and lawyers to Law School (programs that have many barriers to entry), I think teachers need to go through credentialing and lengthy training. Many teachers in credentialing programs are not properly trained, but I believe the solution is higher—not lower—standards and quality preparation.
I’m sure TFA gives many people the chance to teach. However, my priority is in providing the neediest students with high-quality teachers and upholding and strengthening the public education system, and not with giving adults the experience of teaching.
On Friday, I read Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores to my class, and it turned into an impromptu discussion on gender roles. I asked my girls what things they had been told they couldn’t do because they are girls and can’t do “boy” things, and we generated a pretty typical list (lots of sports, video games, etc). I then asked my boys what they had been told they can’t do because it’s a “girl” thing. One of my little boys raised his hand, and in full seriousness said, “snuggle party.” It took everything in me not to giggle as I added it to the list.
We then had a good discussion on if students agreed with the theme of the story that “Boys and girls can do the same things.” One boy said he kind of agreed because girls can play sports, but boys can’t wear makeup. Another boy argued that men can wear makeup, and actors and musicians get dressed up all the time.
Just another day in fourth grade.
My class finally watched Kid President’s video and came up with our own poster. They loved the video; I swear we watched it at least 10 times. My personal favorite is on the bottom…”Life is painful, but you’re cool.”
Thank you Edukaition for the inspiration!
On King’s birthday, we can honor his life and work by ensuring that our memory of his work is not reduced to 4 words “I have a dream” and by teaching about the full depth and breadth of the Civil Rights Movement. - Teaching For Change
In an ideal world, I would have many weeks to teach my fourth graders about the Civil Rights Movement. However, this week I tried to put together a set of lessons that went beyond “I have a dream…”.
My lessons centered around the many beautiful children’s books about the Civil Rights Movement. We read Martin’s Big Words, The Story of Ruby Bridges, Rosa, Child of the Civil Rights Movement, and (my favorite) Remember: The Journey to School Integration. I have other books in my library I pulled out and made available to students. Even though this is not “technically” part of our curriculum, I used these books to teach our Reading Workshop skills:
As I read these books, we focused on important people, places, dates, and especially vocabulary. Most of my students are English Language Learners and they’re nine or ten years old, so the concepts were not normally familiar to them. I also believe the words themselves are crucial to understanding history and allow children to more freely discuss the concepts. I was impressed by how easily my students used the vocabulary to make connections. They discussed the “unjust” treatment of Native Americans during the Gold Rush, the “segregation” they had learned about when we studied Nelson Mandela, and the “strikes,” “marches,” and “protests” led by Cesar Chavez.
For our final activity, each student chose one word from the poster and wrote his or her own acrostic poem. Students used books and had really meaningful discussions with each other when coming up with their poems, and engaged in valuable vocabulary practice.
After students wrote their poems, I let them decorate them with drawings or pictures copied from our books. Here are some of their final products:
The latest step in my obsession with anchor charts and organization… My classroom has tons of windows and a big white board, but almost no wall space. I make lots of posters, but don’t have a place to put them. I found lots of great ideas on Pinterest about hanging curtain rods, but the yellow part of the wall is that special kind of pushpin board. I presented it as a challenge to my dad, and this is what he came up with!
I punched holes into my posters and hung them with large binder rings. This way, the kids and I can flip back to other posters easily.