Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Testing Is Not Teaching Assignment

Our first reading discussion is scheduled for day one of the institute. I know many of you are anxious to begin your reading, so here is your first assignment! As you read Testing Is Not Teaching, select a line (or two) that strikes a chord with you and/or deserves discussion. In a comment to this post, record the line(s) and a brief (really brief, like a sentence, or even just a phrase) response. We will use these responses to frame our discussion on Thursday, June 23.

Happy reading!


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  2. "Function always precedes form and is closely tied to emotion, which underlies intellect" (Graves, 10).

    As Graves states elsewhere, emotion is the engine of thinking; caring about something primes someone to desire an outcome, clarify that outcome in her mind (and through writing-as-thinking), and choose a mode of expression (form) that will enhance their communication.

  3. "I've long since learned that until students care about their work and are then shown how to read their papers from a variety of perspectives, not much happens to improve their work." (Graves, 31)
    This quote is powerful for me because it emphasizes the power of engagement, reflection and meta-cognition in deepening student learning. In the "race to the finish" that often characterizes the school year, it seems that teachers and schools often emphasize volume and work completion with the teacher in the evaluator role, rather focusing on engaging the student in self evaluation. The idea that students need to examine and evaluate their own writing (and be assisted with that process) in order to really grow as writers, seems crucial and yet often overlooked. This idea of self-evaluation is further emphasized by Graves: "The child spends the most time alone with the work and therefore must possess the tools to make evaluative judgments. No question, the teacher does have an evaluative role but his primary role is to teach the students how to evaluate, how to read their work, and how to ask critical questions." (Graves, 28) A teacher who spends the bulk of their time evaluating work (as most teachers do) may better use that time to teach students how to self evaluate. Particularly with formative work, I often find students don't take the time to read teacher evaluations anyhow. This is an ongoing uphill battle & cycle that needs to be shifted to focus on student self-reflection and evaluation.

  4. "One of the chief ways to prompt exciting thinking and theorizing is to trust the shadows. I've learned that most solutions are not found by keeping to the obvious, the straight-forward road. Rather, they lie in the shadows." (Graves, 81)

    I like the challenge of figuring out how to shed light on these shadows, so that solutions, plans and new ideas can be implemented. The "shadow" example Graves used was with a writing study - a student pointed out to him how important the drawing was to understanding the writing piece. Previously Graves wasn't paying much attention to the drawing. For me the "shadows" present themselves as students struggling to read - what am I missing in their learning/in their mistakes? So while problem solving teaching or learning predicaments, keep an eye/ear out for the "shadows" and trust them.

  5. “Human beings are not products or quantities. Emotion is the engine of intellect. A child’s interest is piqued by a story…. Yearning for the feeling of companionship, he reads the story and in the process learns about love and responsibility. In turn, the intellect feeds the joy of learning. Intellect and emotion are synergistic” (Graves 41).

    I resonated with this quote; it connects to my values as a human and a teacher. Early on in my I was influenced by Paulo Freire’s and bell hook’s teaching teaching pedagogies. When we can use a student’s own interest and experience they are changed and in consequence the world is transformed. How do I kindle the fire of curiosity in my students? This is a question I ask myself all the time during the year. Graves states repeatedly each student is unique in their interests and their learning. Every one of my students comes to school with a history of who they are and as teens they are in the process of becoming; they are trying on new identities! “Power is much more fully exchanged in the kairos moment, when person’s are fully present, sense there is no hurry, and know their hearts beat together” (13). It is my hope that my classroom is the soil in which my students can plant seeds and tend to their gardens of learning.

  6. 'How well I remember my first year of teaching. I corrected everything, thinking correcting was teaching. Six month later it struck me that I was correcting the same things in March that I had corrected in September. Instead of teaching children how to read their own work and put myself out of a job, I congratulated myself as a dedicated professional putting in the long hours these detailed corrections demanded. Although I knew something was wrong with the picture, I didn't know what to do about it.' (Graves, 27)

    Wow - how true this is of so many teachers, perhaps even after their first years teaching. We need to be thinking about how we're working towards making students independent - how will they write, edit, and rewrite their work without the teacher? Writing is about the process and part of the process is reflection. If my teacher does all this reflecting, how am I becoming a better writer?

  7. Although Teaching is Not Testing is not one of my favorite books on our reading list, two concepts stand out to me. In his essay about Accountability, Graves writes of a congressman who wants numbers that prove basic skills, particularly in reading, are improving. He says the congressman views the world as highly competitive and that accountability requires us to show that funds for education are well spent. He goes on: “Americans are hungry for statistics: easy-to-understand data to explain a very complicated world.” Later in the article he refers to a fundamental principle of educational psychology, namely: “what you pay attention to, you reinforce.” He is emphasizing the fact that as a nation we have paid so much attention to numerical scores that our appetite craves only more scores. He projects that one day we will discover that what we’ve been evaluating isn’t worth evaluating at all.

    I think this can be summed up quite nicely by a sign that is said to have hung on the wall in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton:
    "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

    In the next essay, A Pessimist Looks at the Future of Education in America, the quote that stands out to me is: “There are problems in education, but the crisis has mainly been manufactured.” I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s book Manufactured Consent. Chomsky refers to hegemony, or the predominance of one state over another, quite often in the book. Chomsky believes that a ruling or elite class controls the flow of ideas within a nation, primarily through media, structuring that information in order to create necessary illusions and to limit dissenting voices to brief thoughts and sound bites that fit easily between two TV ads. (Welcome to Amerika).

    Forgive me if I sound more pessimistic than Graves, but take into account that I am re-reading 1984 at the present time.

    Our zeal for accountability seems to forget that a free society should maximize the human need for creative work -- not treat people as cogs in a machine so that the power elite can maintain control, continue private ownership of public resources and increase profits -- all the while managing media content (while preserving the myth of a free press).

  8. “Current approaches to evaluation have it backwards. At the moment, the most important evaluator is some person out of town who knows nothing of the teaching situation. In fact, the student, who is closest to the work in progress, whether in reading, writing, math, or science, ought to be and is the most important evaluator.” – page 28
    I like the idea of the student being an evaluator. I think this could work at all grade levels if the students are taught and guided through the process. It amazes me that these state tests that students take year after year are sent off to who knows where to be scored. I think there is a great place in education for students to take ownership of their work and evaluate it.

  9. "Whenever someone applies statistics to human growth and development, there ought to be massive rebellion. This hunger for data attesting to 'improvement' leads to labyrinthine state standards and frameworks, with adherence thereto measured by standardized tests. Lesson plans and methodologies are cooked up to match the standards." (Graves, 36)

    This seems prescient considering the massive amount of "Common Core Aligned" content that has proliferated since those standards came into play. It made me think about how many times I've tried to target one of those very specific, isolated skills in the CCSS and failed to create a lesson that engages my students because I was zeroed in on a standard instead of my class. That's not to say I'm totally against the standards but it's been a learning process trying to figure out how to approach them in a meaningful, organic way.

  10. "The mood in the trenches quickly shifts from enthusiasm to obstinate resistance when teachers’ decisions are questioned or they are told they aren’t implementing change quickly enough to placate politicians." p. 49

    Boy, is Don right on this one (and pretty much every other word he has written)! In my role as a literacy coach, this quote really resonated with me. It's a reminder that in most circumstances, teachers really are trying to do right by the children that sit in their classrooms each year. While Don focused on 'placating politicians', at a more local level, it's true for administrators also. How am I protecting the expertise of teachers, making sure their voices are being heard, while also opening pathways of improving instruction that keeps students at the center of what we do. It's a fine line...and not one I always walk well.

  11. "Remember the paint-by-number craze? Small kits included numbered tubes of oil paints and canvases with outlined scenes broken up into hundreds of tiny numbered spaces. The 'artist's' task was to fill each numbered space on the canvas with the correspondingly numbered paint. The result was a crude, disjointed piece of pseudo art. I submit that methodologies like those being propagated by Microsoft will produce this same kind of pseudo learner. Breaking down skills into their components and testing each component separately produces a by-the-numbers reader who mouths words, not a self-directed reader who puts words and ideas together to produce meaning." p. 37

    This feels so in-the-moment for me right now. I truly feel the student is benefitted from experiencing their learning and not just being taught how to take a test. There isn't any real learning happening in that scenario. To be successful, students need to be able to put the puzzle pieces together and not just robotically answer questions on a screen or paper.

  12. "Children might be able to handle these standardized tests but for the cloud of anxiety that surrounds them. What young children can’t handle, and is dangerous to their health, is the look on the faces of adults, the tone in their voices, as they evaluate the scores. What the children see in their teachers, parents, and administrators is tension, fear, and anxiety. Even when a child does well, the tension is ever present." (p. 19)

    The pressure put on students, teachers, and others in the school systems regarding testing is insane, and - in my opinion - does nobody really any good. One high-stakes day (or a few days) doesn't accurately capture what goes on in any of our classrooms, not for us, and not for our students.

    I also worry about the focus on competition and being the best, being the smartest, taking the most challenging courses, because I see it burn kids out in high school. Bright, curious, intellectual students become joyless drones drowning in AP classes and extracurricular activities. The culture around testing doesn't do anything to alleviate or mitigate this trend that I've seen developing just over my own short career as a teacher.