Scratch Paper

I enjoy seeing all of the different ways that my students fill their scratch paper for math testing. Some go top left to top right, then on to the next row. Some start in the upper left hand corner, go down to the lower left hand corner, then proceed across, up, back, etc. creating an ‘L’, ‘square’ and/or maze of numbers.

Some begin in the center and work their way out. Some even create giant pictograms with their equations (the most popular seems to be a smiley face!).

I have never doubted the creativity needed for writing, but then I’ve always considered myself both to be creative and to be an author. Science…well scientists HAVE to be creative to discover the war to discovery.

Reading broadens the spectrum of imagination and knowledge…helping to create creativity. But I never saw the ‘logical’ practices as being particularly creative (or logical really) until now.

Maybe my students are just that amazing. Either way, the extreme creativity that can be found within even the ‘strictly’ logical practices is beginning to astound me!

State Testing

My classroom is a mess this week. Not the fun we’re learning and exploring so there’s paper and words everywhere kind of mess. No…the we-have-to-take-state-tests so everyone is needlessly jittery, nervous, and sleepy kind of mess.

These tests are supposed to analyze and showcase what a typical Nth grader should know…there’s just an issue or two with that type of thinking.

First of all, in a ‘typical’ classroom setting with ‘typical’ characters, there is really no such thing as ‘typical.’ Each child and each day brings with them new challenges. For example, in a ‘typical’ 5th grade classroom in my district you will find a range of 10-13 year olds most, if not all, of whom learn in a different style! There is a range of skillsets for each subject (math, reading, spelling, writing, social studies, art, music, even for P.E.) that can go as low as 1st or 2nd grade and as high as 9th-12th grades (and beyond). That range of skills may even occasionally be found in the SAME student.

As teachers, we spend our days differentiating learning, drilling vocabulary, and responsibility, and worrying that we aren’t doing enough; because really, how much is enough? Then our nights are spent analyzing, grading, and preparing. As a mother, I have trouble separating the care, preparation, and work I put in to the 85 ‘kids’ I have 5 days a week, and the 2 yr. old that is actually mine. My toddler cringes when Mommy brings work home.

Secondly, in a state where the testing vendor, standards, and leadership all changed this year (two out of three more than once) even a “normal,” “typical” teacher with “normal,” “typical” students and a “normal,” “typical” classroom (if any such a place actually existed) would be having issues right now!

No students are ‘cookie cutter.’ Different economical, ethical, lingual, and regional backgrounds are creating even siblings with vast cultural differences due to the constant rise and fall of industries. Yet every student, even those deemed in need of “special instruction” is given THE SAME TEST with the bare minimum of assistances provided to those whose paperwork is in order.

Now, I know that my students are all working to the best of their abilities, whatever those may be. However, every student from bottom to top has expressed concern. Now that they NEED it none of them can seem to recall those random grammar rules, how to find a LCM, why Paul Revere had a horse, or how solids melt (to name a few). One student confessed today to wondering if perhaps he had forgotten how to read.

All of this because of the LIFE ALTERING IMPORTANCE of these tests that is so highly stressed to them all now. Low scores for 5th graders mean remedial courses instead of fun electives. For 8th graders these tests may make the difference between a driver’s license or a bicycle in High School. So you can see why there might be some concern. Add to that the fact that students who have been receiving tutoring, in class remediation, small group, etc. all year are now required to go it alone, and you come out with nervous students and paper shreds under almost every desk. Though some will last longer, and some much shorter, in our school this phenomenon will last for 2 weeks.

TWO WEEKS! Some look at that time frame at scoff at our concern. “2 weeks,” they say, “What’s that in the grand scheme of thing? Don’t you spend another 30+ weeks in school?”

Yes, yes we do. Thirty weeks of preparing our students, and ourselves. For teachers the testing outcome can affect our employability. For students it can affect their ability to choose electives in 6th grade, or even to advance with their friends. For the WORLD OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL STUDENTS, this is the equivalent of Olympic Qualifiers. Though we try to boost student confidence, a lifetime of training has placed a pressure on them to succeed, no matter what we say.

Pressure may make diamonds, but right now it is making MESS out of my class.