Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Testing: 1..2...3...

Oh. My. Goodness.  I have had this nagging feeling for quite some time that I haven't really been the best teacher ever, this year. My teaching would be fine, if I didn't know better. If I were still in the dark, then what I'm doing, what I've done, and not done, wouldn't really be much of a problem. But over the past few years, I've learned a LOT more about what good teaching is, and yet, I haven't really employed much of it this year. I'm not really sure why, other than sometimes it is just easier to do what you know best, and it's hard to do new things. Not that that is a GOOD excuse - it just might be the reason why, though. Or part of it. And, part of it is because I seem to have so little time, and it takes me hours every night just to do what I'm doing now - where would the time come from to do more, better? Again, not a good excuse, just the truth. BUT, today, I have proof that I have to do more, and do it better. We have started reviewing this week for the NYS ELA exams that are given every year from 3rd through 8th grades. Part 1 consists of short stories, articles, essays, poems, etc. and mostly multiple choice questions with a couple of very short answer questions.  Part II is a listening and writing exercise, and part III for my 5th graders is just a paragraph to correct punctuation, grammar and capitalization errors in. For the 6th graders, Part III is a much longer reading/writing section, testing their writing abilities.
     We began going over the multiple choice answers today in 5th. One question from a previous exam we were using for practice was something to the effect of "David said he 'gets his fill' of reading during the school year. David is comparing his feelings about reading to... a,  b,  c, or d .  A was "being lazy."   Answer D was "eating enough."  GUESS WHAT THEY PICKED???  Yep, BEING LAZY.  Ummm, hello?  Upon further inquiry, hardly any student understood that "get your fill" had to do with eating, with "filling up" on food. To me it wasn't nearly as astounding that they would pick being lazy - not that there was one single iota of support for that answer, but the fact that they had no idea that "get your fill" had to do with food. Huh??
     A second question said that David said his backpack of books felt like bricks - why would David compare a backpack full of books to bricks?  Choices were that bricks are a) heavy    b) sharp    c) square   d) large.  They had varying choices for this answer, based on whether they were thinking of size ("well, bricks COULD be large, couldn't they Mrs. P?"  - hmmm, well, no, typically bricks are sort of a uniform smallish size...) or, "The corners of bricks are sharp, I think" or are geometrically-challenged - "No, sweetie, bricks are NOT square - look outside the window at the bricks in the school wall - see how they are sort of a RECTANGLE shape? No, a rectangle ISN"T really sort of like a square... that's why they call it a RECTangle..."   What absolutely floored me?  How many of my students claim they have never heard the comparison "Heavy as bricks," or "Heavy as a bag of bricks." 
     They also didn't know what alliteration was, nor hyperbole, simile, metaphor. Nor could many of them explain the difference between Science Fiction and Legend.
     The literary terms and genres? Yeah, I should have been emphasizing that all year. And we probably should read more genres than just fiction (to be fair, however, I did not pick the books - I am simply teaching the books that have been ordered and taught by the other two teachers, and their predecessors, who are at that grade level - which means, at our school, 5th and 6th graders have been fed a steady and FILLING diet of fiction for years - which I COULD, and SHOULD, have changed... and will, next year, if I'm still teaching in that position...like I said, I DO know better, and have just been lazy this year, Bad me.)
     The lack of cultural references to knowing what "get your fill" means, and having heard/understood the simile "heavy as a bag of bricks"? I don't think I can fix that.
     In too many ways, we are failing our children, and today I can see what my part in that is - and is NOT. Does no one eat family Sunday dinners with Grandma anymore, where she passes the food around the table a few times, and a few MORE times, and then asks, when you requesst to be excused at the end of the meal, "Did you get your fill, honey?"
     Don't answer that. That was a rhetorical question. Don't worry if you don't know what rhetorical means. My 5th and 6th graders don't either. Let's hope they don't ask THAT on the ELA.


Leigh said...

I maybe off track on this one but to me it seems that teaching is much like parenting. There are times I feel like I could be a better parent but it is overwhelming having to change the pace. I try to make time every once in a while to think about how I can better my parenting. Usually that time of reflection gets my motivation moving in the right direction. I think you are on the right course and we are lucky to have someone who cares as much as you teaching our children. ;)

Karen Sue said...

Thanks for the email..

Kimberlee said...

The fact that you are shocked and/or feel any sense of responsibility for your students' knowledge base ALREADY says that you ARE a good teacher and are probably doing a lot more than you think to help your students succeed.

Keeping up with educational demands is sort of like trying to fill a bucket at Niagra Falls. If feels like there is a constantly changing, never-ending list of things our kids should (but don't) know. Education is always in a mad state of flux. It seems we never can do quite enough. There is always some new thing to ADD to our already overwhelming list and none of that addresses the deficits that students arrive with.

Add to that the fact that kids' lives are not the same across the board. American culture (that seems to drive the tests today) is not every American kid's culture. Idiomatic expressions rely on traditional American conversations for their transmission from one generation to another. I believe that a majority of American students are not having those types of conversations at home. Big news, huh?

I guess what I'm trying to say is that tests that are passing for measures of scholastic ability nowadays are really testing cultural knowledge and the creators of these tests don't even realize it...or maybe they do and they just think it's a fair practice.

Whew! What a rant! Can you tell what I spent the week doing? :)

Hang in there and don't drive yourself crazy second-guessing what you did or didn't do! Now if I could just take my own advice. :)