I love the "Turn and Talk" question "What are some ideas you'd like to try? What's holding you back?" I am curious to hear what the other participants think! I would love to try inquiry-based learning, but I struggle with trying to engage all students while working with individuals or small groups, and how to make sure that all students reach mastery of the standards in time for the AIR test in April.
It is so sad that education has become all about reading mastery of standards by early spring to be proficient on state tests. Why can't the goal be student growth for all students as evidenced through classroom assesssment? I am all for accountability but don't believe that rating teachers, schools, and districts based on one assessment at one point in time has done much in Ohio to create higher student achievement and preparation for success in a 21st century world. If the focus in every classroom shifted to growth for all students EVERY student would be a priority not just one subgroup that could help the school look good on a report card.
I completely agree!! As I read these chapters (specifically Chapter 11), I couldn't help but think about how my teaching has changed (and not for the better) with the advent of the new tests. My scores last year were terrible, so I found myself (and the entire district) being "hijacked by the tests" as Beers and Probst mention. I taught to the test and this past school year, raised my scores 13%. In the eyes of my administration, that is a huge success. I was extremely happy with the huge jump in scores, but I miss the days where so much of my classroom was collaborative work and project based learning :(
Jackie, I agree with you. I agree with accountability and do not believe rating teachers, schools, and districts based on one assessment proves this. In fact I feel the pressure of these ratings is putting so much stress on teachers and districts that instruction is actually at times worse. In some districts the focus has become the test and not meeting individual needs- this is really sad and not best practice.
Molly, I think what is holding me back is I feel like I am a rule follower and I am afraid of doing something wrong. I feel like I can manage next practice and sustaining next practices. However, disruptive next practices does not come easy for me. I am willing to try new things but would always run it by administration first. I do believe innovation is what lets us thrive. I have seen classrooms without any desk and students are thriving, I haven seen student thrive over discussions of books without actual test or written assessments, I have seen great success during reading where the students have different stations they can go to while the teacher is meeting with small groups. It's all very exciting and I do love to try new things.
I totally agree with all that is being said here. I am also a rule follower and I am not always willing to try something new even if I think it is an amazing idea. I have approached my administrator and asked if something would work and the answer is usually, "sure go ahead..." but I know that the underlining comment is, "Just make sure they are staying on track" which means 'getting ready for the test.'
I would love to try some new things and use some disruptive next practices with a crew of teachers in my building and see how it benefits the students!
I agree! I think for me a lot of it comes from intimidation of my colleagues sometimes too. Sometimes I feel like some teachers are SO rooted in books, authors, and "best practices" that if I have an idea I want to try the origin and research behind it is immediately questioned. So sometimes I hesitate sharing new ideas/strategies that I try.
I struggle with this as well. I have always wanted to do more "book club" type reading instruction in my classroom but I always struggle with the management/productivity of everyone reading something different.
I differentiate and use a lot of different resources for our daily activities, but something about the book clubs always intimidates me. I feel like I've only been able to be successful with them a small number of times. Any tips would be so appreciated!
As I listened to this podcast and reflected in my own district and my role in curriculum, I continue to work to disrupt the thinking of both teachers and parents who like the routine of weekly spelling tests. This is a hurdle that I have not yet completely been able to get over with all of the teachers in the district. Just when I think all on board with better ways of teaching, I learn of other ways some are working in weekly spelling tests. How can I get all of my elementary teachers to FINALLY give this up?
My district has gone away from the formal teaching of cursive writing so this disruption was not as much of a challenge to overcome. The challenge is in getting those outside of the classroom to understand that it is not a critical component to student success.
Why do we do what we do in education? Is it for the community? Is it to help students become career and college ready? Is it because this is how we do it?
Disrupting our thinking begs these questions. How many students that went on to college, would say "those spelling tests really helped to prepare me"? Obviously, with good intentions there is a culture embedded in our schools that tie us to practices that we really need to let go of.
Couldn't students have their own personal vocab lists of words that they come up with through their reading that challenge their thinking or disrupt their train of thought?
Wouldn't it be more valuable to them to learn if there is a root to those words in order to broaden their own repertoire? This is what I did when I taught third grade.
I have some valid concerns about handwriting. Neuroscience studies on brain connections for reading and writing have concluded that keyboarding does not fire the neurons like physical handwriting. Without these connections, the brain is not using it's full capacity to comprehend.
I know this is 'absolute' language. I am displaying my bias on this subject area. We have left behind a subgroup of learners with dyslexia and dysgraphia by giving up handwriting.
The questions you pose have me thinking. Why is it that 'we do what we do'? Sometimes I think 'we do what we do' because that is what we know. I'm not saying that is the correct way of thinking, but from some of the anecdotes shared in the opening of Part III, there are many teachers who are passive in discovering why a practice is a 'best practice'.
You asked if college students would say those spelling tests really prepared them for college. If you ask them if spelling tests prepared them for college, they may say no, but if you ask them what would have been a better practice to becoming a 'good speller' in their early school years, they may have trouble answering that. I also think that is why there are parents who question teachers who 'dare' to forgo the weekly spelling test, don't give nightly reading log assignments, or have a practice that isn't in line with their past school experience.
We cannot let test scores be the hurdle. If you are willing to try the BHH framework and signposts to support close reading that actually engages your readers, your test scores will improve.
"If the goal is, don't fail," then the result, we fear, is 'don't innovate" page 105.
This quote has been keeping me awake at night.
Is it the community that we need permission from to do what's right by students? Is it the legislators, is it the state department of education? Is it the parents? Is it the students? Or do we need to permit ourselves to embrace the opportunity to do things a little differently as if it were our own personal action research.
At the high school level, I am not sure the BHH method will help improve the test scores. The readings on the "big bad tests" are all very dry and BORING...two years ago, almost every single passage was a seminal document. It is hard enough for today's students to understand what the heck is being said, let alone try to answer questions about it.
Tracy, I agree 100%. I do not think that the BHH method will improve test scores for high school students. I have made sure to look at what type of reading the students are doing on the state mandated testing and it is not one that would support BHH (in my opinion). The reading is too advanced and dry (and looooong). I wish it would help, or I wish I felt more confident that it would help.
I do think BHH will make my students be happier readers but I am not convinced it will help on the test.
My principal would say, "show me the DATA that this framework will support raising test scores"..... :/
I enjoyed this more than anything I’ve read so far. This section hits on something that truly has somewhat annoyed me for quite a while. I just finished my thirty-sixth year of teaching. I can’t tell you how often I think back to my beginning days in the 1980s when I had my classes and my material and I taught the content the way I felt was most effective. It wasn't the same in every class and it wasn't the same every year. Well, those days appear to be gone.
I’ve watched this change take place from being able to do what you felt was most effective to doing what needed to be done to produce data positive for yourself and your school district. It’s been somewhat disheartening. It reminds me of those parts of the chapter where Kylene and Bob talk about mass production. The final product is “robots” that pass the test.
Anyhow, personally I sometimes feel a bit disconcerted about some of the things I do. As important as it is, I just can’t get excited about data collection. Going back to the beginning chapters in this book, I’m not a fan of giving a grade everyday just because he/she comes to class and sits there and breathes. What’s more important to me is whether or not the students are learning. Sometimes what you learn takes time and cannot be spit back on a test or response later in the week. So, I still do my thing although it is not always in synch with my colleagues.
Fortunately, my recent administrators haven’t beaten me over the head. Perhaps that’s because, as noted on page 110 of the text I teach electives (with one exception) and these grades don’t count in the school’s profit. As for my colleagues, and there are two of them on this blog, I’m not really certain what kind of pressure they are under. I don't have a sense that our building is under too much pressure, but the kids tell me they are pressed to a point to pass the tests. I’m OK with that as long as it’s balanced with “the freedom to learn”.
The frustrating thing is that all of this conversation seems so logical. It makes so much sense and yet we educators cannot go there because our legislators, who know little to nothing of what we do, won’t let us.
Your post hit the nail directly on the head!! I have only been teaching for 13 years and have seen a major shift in my teaching. I feel the AIR tests simply want "robots" as you mentioned and so my teaching has significantly changed. I used to have projects and creative student work filling my classroom my walls. Now, I have found I push a lot of that off until 4th quarter...after the test :( THEN, I find when I do the "creative stuff," they simply don't produce anything of quality. They have become the robots that know how to take a test and that is it!
Bob, I have been teaching for 15 years and have seen a major shift in teaching too. Teachers use to have more say in how they taught and what they taught. Today it is more robotic. It is sad because the creativity and independence teachers were once thriving in is almost obsolete. I think the pressures of testing is really burning a lot of teachers out.
Bob and Tracy - I agree with the "robot" comment and pushing off more creative things until after the test. It often seems that my admin wants to see the students answering "AIR-type questions" instead of thinking for themselves.
As a teacher who will begin my 7th year of teaching this year, it makes me sad to hear this because the current state of education is all I know as a teacher. So sometimes I get wistful about what I may have been like as a teacher before the pressures of standardized testing.
You are so right- we are mass producing 'robots' who can structure an essay and answer questions but often times stare at us with blank eyes if we ask them their opinion or thought process about something they are reading or writing. They have learned to give the 'right answer' even if they feel like it is wrong based on their interpretation or thinking about the subject. This needs disrupting!
I could write for a long time about the information within these two chapters. SO MUCH of it is relevant within my own classroom and my district. For this post, I guess I really want some advice and feedback about student choice at the high school level. On page 103, Beers and Probst say "that when we give kids a choice in what they read, they are more motivated to read." I completely agree with this. My question is to HOW to go about monitoring this. I have 7 periods a day, with 18-25 students in each section. How do I go about giving them the choice and then making sure they are actually reading it? We do "free read Fridays" for a portion of the school. On those days, I have tried reading logs, book talks, conferencing, etc. I have found that some of the students will read (the avid readers) but many of them have learned by age 16 how to "fake" it. They fake reading logs, they look on-line for information about the book, etc. I obviously can't read every book, so I have no way of knowing for sure!
Give me some advice!! How do I give them choice and hold them accountable!??!
Tracy - I struggle with this as well. I get so tired of kids faking their way through a project on an independent book! I feel that the Internet has enabled this and I'm not sure how to get around it. Would love to hear what others have done!
Tracy & Heather,
I have the same issues with you with "fake readers." This year (Heather and I actually came up with this together - I did it every Wednesday in my resource room) I had about 40 questions written on notecards in a box. I had students pick a card and write the answer out after reading silently. Of course I think some of them faked it BUT I do think it was harder for some to fake because they didn't know what the question would be fore reading.
I am not sure that this is helpful information or not but I found a little success with it!
While every grade level has its challenges to fake reading, in our current educational focus of passing a test, most students have learned by high school to fake read or to read enough to answer the question. I know this doesn't help, but I think this problem is universal and won't be solved if teaching to pass a test is the focus of education.
There may not be one tried and true method to combat this, but for my middle school classroom, I teach using a workshop approach and students independently read and/or wrote every single day. My main source of checking on their progress in their choice reading and writing is conferring (and there is no way I could read all of their books), looking at their writing and writing about reading against a progression to look for growth, and putting some of the ownership back on the students through self assessment using progressions. Students have choice in their reading and writing, but we still have shared texts that we read and that I use as mentor texts in my mini lessons.
I really enjoyed reading chapters 10 and 11. I have found working in special education we often have to use researched based materials that are best practice for the students. By best practice it is what is best for student learning. I loved the way these chapters make you question your definition of best practice and defining researched based material as best practice. I often fine we need to use research based material to support or validate what we are teaching and why we are teaching it. So often as a educator our judgment is called into question and at times court. Without research base materials we are looking at significant lawsuits from parents who children's are not progressing as well as they think. It is often very difficult because some parents have difficulty excepting their child has a learning disability and will often want to know "When will they catch up?' "When will they snap out of this?" "When will they be like all of the other kids?" Having a structured research based program has helped with data collection and supporting our work. I feel it needs to be a balance. A balance of best practices with room for the teacher to be able to apply the next practice, sustaining practices, and disruptive practices.
An instructional practice that was used when I was a child and still used today is spelling test. As a child I would cram for the test, memorize, do well on the test and then never apply the spelling words to my everyday writing. Currently, as an Intervention Specialist I can't stand when the general education classroom has spelling tests. I have had parents tell me they spend up to an hour a night on spelling. I tell them please do not worry about spelling I would much rather have my students read a book for pleasure and get to go play outside then fight with their parents over spelling. I have had students take tests orally, I have shorten lists, I have made up lists that are more appropriate to their reading levels, I have given multiple choice spelling tests where the student just needs to circle the correct spelling. and I have dictated sentences with the spelling words in them.
In chapter 11 I just love the title Reassessing Success. How true is this? There is so much pressure from the state that is put on schools, students, and teachers. Thankfully I work in a very good district with tremendous support from administration. Although I do put a lot of pressure on myself for wanting my students to perform well and it is often through test prep. I do think exposing students to test prep helps with some anxiety because of the familiarity but I agree students need to feel more engaged, have more exposure to collaboration and creativity.
"I think he's got more potential than his test scores show, but I really don't have any evidence for that. He walks in. Slumps into his chair." (pg. 97) I've lost track of how many students have fallen into this category over the course of my career. How can we get them to realize they have that potential?
I loved Bob's statement that at school students are answering questions someone else has asked, and at home they are asking the questions. There needs to be more of this in the classroom!
Something else in this section that really stood out to me was on page 105 - the discussion about how "don't fail" = "don't innovate" I'm trying really, really hard to innovate and try new things, but I teach all 9th grade (by choice!) and that fear of how my students will do on the state tests is always looming. . .
I was also struck by the "don't fail - don't innovate" part of this reading. I am afraid of failure as a teacher (like...am I actually helping these kiddos?) and also failure that my students may have (like...will they actually get this on the test? will administration see the improvements?)
Although the fear of students performing on the state test is always looming in the back of our minds, I think that we need to remember that good teaching is what we are doing every single day. I doubt anybody doing this book teacher isn't using innovative thinking in their classrooms.
I was struck on page 105 when it was, "Fear of failure becomes a reason we avoid venturing into the unknown. New ideas rarely work the first time, so if we are to make changes, we have to accept the probability that our first efforts won't go quite as well as we want them to." - The problem that we have with this as teachers, is that we often don't have time to fail and try to try it again. It seems that there is just so much to cram into our time with the kids that we have to be pretty darn awesome the first time around.
I think my students would get a kick out of the 409 story on 105 as well, "Formula 409 is so named because the first 408 formulas did not work. There were 408 failures that preceded success."
I love this!
Jennie!! YES!!! You are exactly right that we don't have time to fail and try it again. Move on and revamp is what I find myself doing.
I feel like these two chapters are a 'call to arms' in the sense that they are challenging my thinking and reflecting on my own teaching practices. What 'best practices' have I used or are using without having a true understanding of how it is best for my students? In what ways am I disrupting 'best practice' that could be improved?
If nothing else, these chapters affirm my belief that I must always understand my students and teach in a way that I know is best for them to becoming lifelong learners and independent thinkers. I do not want to 'mass produce' students who can't think for themselves, don't feel empowered to take risks, who don't see themselves as readers because a test told them that, or who think reading is a task that is completed once they have answered the questions provided for them.
I agree! These chapters make me feel good about myself as a teacher! I was able to really kind of appreciate that although I may not be perfect 100% of the time, I am doing what is best for my students the best that I know how.
One of the most memorable lines in this section to me is "Focusing on the essentials in education, rather than on test scores, seems to result in higher test scores" (p. 110).
I think this expresses my philosophy of state testing pretty effectively. I have always taught in the environment of testing "pressure." Starting my 7th year of teaching only makes this idea stand out even more. I have always felt that if teachers are focusing on engaging their students and teaching good reading strategies and skills then the students will grow on the tests. I just don't think it's realistic to teach kids how to do well on a test and expect them to be skillful, responsive readers in their everyday life. So, like Beers & Probst point out I will continue trying to teach engaged, responsive readers rather than readers who can just pick and choose correct "evidence."
Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts