How to Help Students Cope with Testing

It would help students cope with testing if they could actually benefit educationally from the tests they take. I sent three children off to school this morning to take standardized tests. I gave them a good breakfast and told them to do their best. In all likelihood they will take the tests and then forget all about them. We usually receive the scores over the summer, when kids have long forgotten about them. 

Since many of the tests are now done on computers we should be able to receive results almost instantaneously. Wouldn’t it be great if my children’s teachers could actually use this data to help my kids understand where their strengths are and where they need to focus their learning?  Yesterday Mission 100Percent, a website that shares video clips of teachers, featured this video of a teacher using data from standardized tests to help his students understand where they are and where they are going. I watched and felt jealous that more teachers don’t have access to testing data in a timely manner to use this data with students. I especially liked the subtle way the teacher rewarded the student with the highest rate of growth.

Data from testing is useful for schools, districts and states to see how they compare to their peers. Why not make this data available to empower our students to examine themselves as learners as well?

 

Questions Unite Us; Answers Divide Us

It is absolutely critical that teachers ask good questions. A good question is one that prompts discussion and elicits more questions from students. 

It is not enough for teachers to conduct a “Q & A” in the classroom. In this scenario students compete for who knows the most answers the quickest. Students learn that the teacher is the one with the answers and that there is only one correct answer. This leads to a divided classroom, in which some students feel smart and others feel like they don’t know. Students feel powerless and passive in the learning process.

When teachers ask good questions all students become engaged in their learning. Good questions help students relate to the material, become personally invested in seeking more information, and provide students with the opportunity to think, reflect and ask. Good questions unite students, inviting them to work together, to struggle and take time to figure out complex problems. 

Warren Berger, innovation expert and author of the book A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas  writes, “One of the most important things questioning does is to enable people of all ages to think and act in the face of uncertainty.” Isn’t this exactly what we want our students to be able to do? To be successful in college and career people need to take initiative, think and act when the answers are not evident. 

Teachers must model great questioning and help students hone their questioning skills. Whether teaching science or language arts, second grade or higher ed, all teachers must develop the ability to ask great questions to unite their classrooms and model problem solving skills. 

Asking great questions is an art that needs to be developed. The Right Question Institute provides wonderful resources to help educators nurture their ability to question. Educators must invest in becoming great askers, and they also must embrace as a critical part of their job helping students learn to ask great questions.

Happy Mother’s Day!

My mother was also a teacher. She taught in the New York City public school system for her entire career, spanning decades. The attributes that made her a great mother also made her a wonderful teacher. Here are some of the life lessons I’ve learned from her:

1.    Live in the moment and enjoy every moment to the fullest. My mother doesn’t spend her time yearning for what was or worrying about what will be. At the age of 75 my mother enjoys each day immensely and fills her days doing what she enjoys.

2.    Play. My mother is one of the most playful people I know. Whether she is competing on the tennis court or letting one of her 7 grandchildren lead her in a game of make-believe my mother loves to play. She often says she still feels like a child.

3.    Never stop learning. My mother reads a lot, follows current events, attends lectures and enjoys learning from everyone around her, including her young grandchildren. 

4.    Keep your heart open. My mother loves her three children fiercely. She also loves our spouses and her 7 grandchildren. After my father passed away she was not afraid to open her heart and find love again.

5.    Be positive. My mother is extremely optimistic. She always looks on the bright side and focuses on the positive.

I know my mother positive impact on many students’ lives. Words can not express my gratitude for all she has given me.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Reflections on Teacher Appreciation Week: We Could Do More

Truthfully, I think Teacher Appreciation Week is a missed opportunity to improve teaching and elevate the profession. 

Let me start by saying that I really appreciate teachers and hold them in the highest regard for working so hard for so little money and I’m aware that a great deal of what teachers do goes unnoticed.

That being said, I think a week of appreciating teachers is just too much. Can you think of any other profession that has a week of appreciation for doing their jobs? Is there a doctor appreciation week? A police officer appreciation week? Mother’s Day is just one day and many mothers pushed something the size of a watermelon out of their bodies and are responsible for another human being for…ever (or at least for 18 years)! 

Parents from my children’s three schools organized lovely ways to demonstrate gratitude for teachers, preparing delicious lunches, delivering beverages, collecting for gifts and writing cards. I know my kids’ teachers appreciated how much they were appreciated. However, as a parent and someone who thinks constantly about how we can improve teaching and learning, I can’t help but think this week was a missed opportunity to get parents, students and teachers focused together on this question:

What does great teaching look like and how can we do more of it?

Here’s what I propose: What if there was one teacher appreciation day and the rest of the week was devoted to the celebration of various qualities or actions that help teachers succeed? It might look something like this:

Monday – Love of learning day: Teachers, students and parents celebrate and share something that they love to learn. This would demonstrate and model the importance of lifelong learning, beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Tuesday – Teacher/parent partnership day: Teachers and parents celebrate and share ways they can support one another’s work. This would encourage parents to think about the role they play in education and how they can support teachers throughout the year.

Wednesday – Reflections on great teaching day: Teachers, students and parents share a story or one way that a teacher has had an impact on them. Teachers can share some of their best tips and strategies for effective teaching with one another.  Perhaps schools would select a ‘teacher of the year’ on this day and give specific examples of what makes this teacher have such a powerful impact on student learning.

Thursday – Open classroom day: This is a day devoted to opening up classrooms and learning about what happens there. Parents would be invited to sit quietly inside classrooms, and teachers would be allocated some time to visit one another’s classrooms to observe and learn from peers.

Friday – Teacher Appreciation Day: This would be a great day for all those lunches, treats and gifts to shower teachers with much deserved thanks.

What do you think? Am I being a killjoy or is there a place for encouraging educational excellence in Teacher Appreciation Week?

#ThankaTeacher

Dear Mr. Grosso,

Thank you for your high standards, your relentless challenges and the passion with which you taught AP US History and Shaping of Western Thought at West Orange High School in the ‘80s.  I was a good student, accustomed to earning As and I was rattled, but not discouraged, by the C I received in your class as a sophomore. History was probably my least favorite subject, and I initially found you intimidating, but there was something about the way you conducted that class that made me redouble my efforts and try harder. 

I remember how you roamed around the classroom during engaging student discussions as we debated the causes of the Civil War. I remember numerous revisions to 2-page position papers, agonizing over each word since there was precious little space with which to persuade you. I recall the smile behind your serious face as you constantly challenged us to carefully consider others’ points of view and the ways our own perspectives have been influenced. You spoke quietly; we engaged in heated discussions.

I’ll never forget what you wrote in my yearbook, how it was a gift to see me become a better thinker. I am eternally grateful for the spark that was lit in your classes. What a gift for me to learn how to think critically, question, and synthesize multiple sources of information. I use these skills every day.

Thank you!

Sincerely,

Amy Satin Spinelli

How will we know when our profession is respected? 

1.     When teachers are asked to sit on reputable panels to discuss issues outside of education

2.     When K-12 districts (and not just non-profits) carefully source, select and recruit only the top graduates to consider teaching in their schools

3.     When unions are replaced by associations focused on collaboration, networking and professional learning

4.     When a former teacher is elected President

5.     When people actively seek out the opinions of practicing teachers when making policy and programmatic decisions

6.     When there is real accountability for student outcomes using a variety of measures, however imperfect