Skip to main content

Learning: What We Should Really Have in Common

I've been slowly making my way through the November edition of English Journal. This edition is dedicated to standards--something that, try as we might, we just can't seem to avoid. 

I'm not far into the issue, but Stephen Heller's article, "The End of Innovation," really made me stop and think about what I see happening in so many places. Just like I hate the phrase "data-driven," I'm starting to distrust the notion that everything should be assessment-driven. Heller makes his case here: 

By putting assessment at the forefront of the agenda--and in effect having the ends justify the means--we risk losing that creative spark that not only authenticates lifelong learning but also inspires teachers to recognize that while students do share many of the same qualities from year to year, each child and each classroom is different, and each requires the capacity to differentiate in ways that permit greater flexibility in teaching students. 

I've been down this road myself. I've been so fixated, focused, and crazed in order to meet the demands of an assessment that I've rendered myself unable to think about the needs of the people I am really there for: my students. Am I there to teach To Kill a Mockingbird, or am I there to foster a love and appreciation of literature? For me, it's the latter. And there's no real, or at least authentic assessment, that can "measure" whether or not a student has developed a love of reading.

The set of 30 bodies in front of me at any time is different from the 30 next door and the 30 I will see later in the day. If I expect to do the same thing every hour or as every teacher in my grade level, I might succeed at seeing performance on an assessment, but there is no way that I can ensure every student's needs are met.

Further, an assessment-driven culture turns a classroom into a checklist. I only have experience with teaching English, but I would argue that the fluidity of the subject makes it near difficult to create a checklist classroom. I don't ever want my students to stop doing any of the things that I've worked to teach in my classroom, but I've also witnessed days where what we are doing just seems rote. There is no spark. Learning and engagement have taken the backseat to accomplishing and doing. Students are experiencing, like Heller suggests, an environment where "have to" takes precedence over "getting to."

Heller also reminds teachers that we have an "educational covenant" with students. There is such a large amount of trust established, or broken, on the first day of class. Will we live up to the promises that we make students when we tell them that they will think, read, and write in ways unlike ever before? Or will too many walk out of our classrooms with a boxed-in view of what the English language arts really are? It's more than MLA formatting, more than teaching argumentative writing, and more than the confines that narrative writing is placed in.

I want to end with another Heller quote that has had me thinking for days: "... [W]e should be mindful that each day that we (as teachers) stand before our students, we are recruiting the next generation of ourselves." If we live by assessment and not by learning, is lasting learning taking place?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Targets and Time

I just finished Cris Tovani and Elizabeth Birr Moje's No More Telling as Teaching: Less Lecture, More Engaged Learning from Heinemann's Not This But That series edited by Ellin Oliver Keene and Nell Duke.

Needless to say, I pick up anything that's by Tovani and Moje because of Tovani's belief in the workshop model and Moje's extensive work in both disciplinary and out of school literacies.

After finishing this quick read, I've been thinking a lot about two things.

First, how we spend our time matters. I get less than 60 minutes with students each hour. Time is a hot commodity! Because of that, I am constantly looking at ways to maximize instruction. If I pass papers back this way or if I move this to this point in time, I can gain another minute. And those minutes add up! Sometimes, however, it feels like there is just never enough time. All teachers know that. In fact, I've yet to meet a teacher admit that she or he has too much time with students, especia…

A Lasting Impact

I love graduation season. It's a time to celebrate hard work and academic achievement. For many students in both my hometown and where I work, many students who are graduating are the first in their families to graduate from high school.

As teachers, sometimes we forget that. I've been guilty of assuming before that because we're past Y2K that everyone has a high school diploma. I remember my own realization when I found out my mom's mom hadn't graduated high school. Encouraged by a doctor to drop out (I remember her vaguely mentioning something about an enlarged heart), she was told that she wouldn't live to be 18. Naturally, she carpe diem-ed. (Well, there wasn't much living it up. She married and had five kids. She also lived to her late 70s.)

So as I sat on the dais at my hometown's graduation ceremony, I reminded myself to remain calm about the air horns, the catcalls, the shouting. High school graduation might not seem like a big deal to me (everyo…

Kids Wielding Critical Thinking

I first heard Cornelius Minor speak at NCTE’s convention last fall, and I was instantly impressed. He very quickly had dozens of adults moving around the room, jumping rope, making lists—learning in some of the most engaged ways.
I recently subscribed to the Heinemann Podcast and I found myself devouring the series of episodes featuring Minor. Trust me. You don’t want to miss these.The episode on “The Over-Engaged Student” is one of them. Through the story of “Prez,” a nickname given to one particular student, Minor explores ways that he is able to “turn the volume down” “but respect his enthusiasm” on the type of student that we have all encountered. You know, the one who always seems to have a comment or contribution to make, even if, at times, it might not seem relevant. And that’s when Minor says this: “One of the things that we never want to do is silence kids.” That made me stop and think about all the times that I’ve asked kids to “hold that thought” and then never returned to …