Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kids Are Not Cookies

I spent last night meeting and talking to teachers of the year from states all over the country in my opening event for teacher of the year program. As I went back to my room I reflected my first impressions as well as the vigorous conversations.

Throughout the evening I met passionate and dedicated teachers. I know that is a phrase tossed around pretty loosely and many people roll their eyes when they hear it. However, I truly mean it. I was speaking with a teacher from Ohio who essentially started his own school within a public school system on many of the same foundations of learning that good teachers believe in. Another fascinating conversation was with the teacher of the year from Alaska and the struggles of teaching in a rather remote environment. I was also pumped to meet the teacher from Italy who taught military students overseas in a region that my class read about in a novel. All of these stories and many more showed me the true passion these individuals have in their jobs on a daily basis. It was incredibly encouraging knowing the number of like-minded teachers out there. I also love hearing different perspectives and a way of looking at teaching and learning in a variety of classroom settings.

If I took anything away from my discussions last night, it is that we cannot take a cookie cutter approach to teaching and learning. Yes, student’s success in the classroom is determined by a teacher’s ability to teach. However, to deny home life, background knowledge, life experience, cultural uniqueness, geographic considerations or the whole host of other factors in a child’s life is a failure to see them as a whole child. In the handful of discussions I had last night, it really brought to light my belief that we cannot standardize education on a massive scale. Just hearing the variety of stories and nuances within each of these teacher’s communities was eye opening as well and left me with a question. Why would my approach to teaching a suburban child in Illinois be the same as a teacher working with a remote village of children in Alaska? Even within my own classroom, I have a range of variables that impact every child differently. The kids across the country are not cookies and yet I feel as though we are trying to force them to be…

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Defending the Retake

In the past two years I have changed my thinking on test taking and retakes. I used to give kids one shot on a test and they better not blow it. If they could not demonstrate their comprehension on the day I delegated as “test day” they were out of luck. It was a one attempt deal…unless their parents called and complained real loud. J

Over the past couple of years I have reflected much on the approach I take to teaching as well as evaluating learning. I am tasked to teach a certain set of learning standards in my classes every year. At this point in time I am not told how to teach these standards, or how I go about assessing them. Typically, I would give an assessment, grade it, hand it back and move one. End of story.

Now, students are given an unlimited opportunity to retake any assessment or any portion of an assessment. If my goal is to make sure students understand the learning standards, then should it matter how many times they need to do this? I grew up a basketball player and know that if I was assessed on my shooting ability before I was warmed up, I would fail miserably. If a student can get themselves to a point of understanding, then why does it matter how many times or how long it takes them to do this?

With all that being said, many skeptics claim students will just memorize the test and take advantage of this retake policy. Yes, if I were to just give the same test back to a kid every single time without any additional prep work that would be true. However, that is not what I do. If a student wants to do a retake there is a reflection form they fill out that asks them some questions pertaining to their failed attempt and what they will do to prepare for a second try. As part of this additional work I have a series of screencasts students can watch as well as numerous re-teaching opportunities. They must prove to me they have gone and done something differently to prepare for a second assessment attempt.

In addition to the prep work a student will do prior to a retake, the assessments themselves are not always the same. Depending on the student, I will often just do an oral retake at my desk. I will just have a conversation with the student and ask a series of questions aimed at assessing the student’s comprehension of the concept. Most of my students prefer this method as it is quick, easy and a natural form of communication. If students prefer to write their answer I might give them the same assessment, a new assessment, or ask them how they want to show me they understand the concept.

Bottom line is learning happens all the time but rarely at the same time. With that in mind, I do offer retakes and will continue to do so. If I don’t offer a retake or re-teaching, then the learning stops the moment the student hands in the test.