Before I attempt to answer those questions I would like to state that seeing the joy of my students faces was one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced. One little boy in particular was so worried about the test. He came up to me daily, telling me in soft whispers how he was concerned over the results. The concern came from the fact that he was held back last year. Well, I kept telling him he was going to do great. He had come to all the test prep sessions, and taken his time, doing all the right things during the testing. Well, I am pleased to say that he passed every subject. Victory was his for the first time in his life! That afternoon, as the teachers and I walked toward the buses, I witnessed this young teen, almost skipping down the hall. The weight of the world was lifted and he felt free. Wow! That was awesome to see, which also gave me another outlook on the CRCT.
Realizing that the standardized testing is here to stay how can we, as teachers seeking excellence, keep our perspective and make it great for the kids?
First, I believe that the test was successful for my low students especially, by teaching them at the same standard as all my students. All in all, we must teach to the common core standards, and keep the expectations high! We absolutely must believe in all our hearts that they can achieve, but we cannot keep that belief to ourselves. Our students need to hear it. I preached and preached to my lower achieving students (those that struggle in reading/ela) about my belief that they could succeed. I would share stories with them about times when I fell short on a test. I wasn't worried about making a mistake in class. If I couldn't spell a word, I would say, "Oops, Mrs. Farmer is having spelling trouble. Can someone look that up in the dictionary for me?" They would laugh, but I also think it was reassuring to them that learning is a journey, not a destination. We all make mistakes and fall short sometimes, but we must keep trying. I also worked diligently on test taking strategies. We developed a system, and throughout the review, although tedious at times, we would use it. Most importantly, however, my low class developed the system themselves. I stood as they called out to me what they needed to do with my guidance. Our mantra became..."Eliminate, Evaluate, and Instinctuate." Part of the reason why I believe that they were successful stemmed from the idea that they had control over their learning. Once we developed all of our test taking strategies, we practiced every day.
On the other hand, however, I did not drill and kill. Knowing that the testing time would be difficult. I decided to develop a unit, which we are still working on called, "believe it and you will achieve it!" I thought it might be a nice pick me up from all the stress. As a class, we spent about 45 minutes working through the test prep books, but then we would spend 45 minutes working on the unit. I worried a little about doing this because I witnessed other teachers drilling ferociously. In my heart, though, I worried it might burn them out, and they would begin to develop a negative attitude toward the test. I told them continually to do their best, use the strategies, and not worry about the rest.
As far as what I can change for next year, I am still figuring that out. I know that I would like to get the Language Arts score higher, which I already felt was my weak spot anyway. I've been working on a few ideas. I know that we can get rid of the old Coach books, because the wording on the new test are different. Much of the ELA test had questions like, "Read the passage and determine which sentence does not fit? Or which statement most likely is the main idea?" I knew some of my students would have difficulty with those types of questions. But, overall, my goal is to not teach to the test, because I believe that takes the joy out of learning.
The following are some ideas that I have for next year to increase rigor and scoring next year:
- Students must develop a love of reading. This week I am putting together packets for my current sixth grade students. The packet will include: a summer reading list (that they create based on their interests), my recommended reading list, their summer reading contract, reading log, letter of encouragement from me, and the wiki information where they can post about their summer reading. The goal is for students to read 20 books this summer.
- Also, I have e-mailed the contract and recommended summer reading list to one elementary school, but I will e-mail it also to the other two for distribution among the upcoming 5th graders.
- Increase Classroom Library: I love the book, The Book Whisperer, and I want to use her strategies for middle grades reading, but I must increase my classroom library to do that. That will be a project that I take on this summer.
- Vocabulary: The students will develop a vocabulary notebook that they will journal in as they read and write. The main purpose will be to find new words that they can use in their writing.
- My students will write at least one essay a week, with shorter writings throughout. Basically, anything they read about, they will have to write about.
- I will develop blog sites for my students. My kids this year have loved it.
- Writer's notebook. To facilitate better writing, the students will develop a notebook that will contain all of the needed resources for effective writing.
- This summer I plan to read, In The Middle, by Nancie Atwell. My hope is that I will perfect my writing strategies. She is recommended by the best teachers I know including the author of The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller.
- I've also learned that it is ok to encourage and love our students. During my first internship as a student teacher, my mentor teacher told me several times that I was too affectionate, too caring to be a middle grades teacher. She thought I should teach elementary school. Well, I believe and still do that she was wrong. You don't have to be mean to be a middle grades teacher. Firm, absolutely, but not mean. Kids of all ages need our encouragement and know that we believe in them.
I hope that all teachers feel hopeful for the future, reflect on this testing season, and anticipate the exciting future before us!
I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.