Monday, February 11, 2013

Elements of Standardized Testing

Several times yesterday while tooling around on facebook I came across an article titled A Warning to College Profs From A High School Teacher.  After ruminating for a night and reading the article a second time, I have to say that I feel for Strauss.  I was fortunate to have all the say I wanted in my curriculum development while I taught high school for 9 years.  And as a college professor, I once again have that advantage.

I have to wonder though....if I hadn't made the leap to university...would I still be teaching high school?  I honestly cannot answer that question.  I try to stay in contact with what is happening in school districts.  Though I am a professor in an English Department, I teach several English Methods courses to the Secondary English Ed majors.  I try very hard to avoid being in "the ivory tower" because I witnessed that in my graduate program and swore I would always stay connected to the "real world."  But after reading this article I really started to worry.  How can we keep good teachers in schools of the curriculum is becoming more and more rigid.  I think I might have an answer.  At least I hope I do.

Consider the skills on which students are being assessed.  For example...everyone knows that students have to learn to make inferences.  But does that mean you have to skill and drill it?  No.  One of the best experiences I have had with teaching inference was seating the class in a circle and having them read aloud the play Sorry, Wrong Number, a suspenseful piece in which a woman over-hears a plot to murder her.  The clues were becoming more and more obvious that the woman was going to be murdered that at one point one of my students yelled out "Mr. O....this woman is so stupid!"  I asked why she thought that and the student told me that there were several clues in the story that suggested she was the intended target.  I then looked at the student and told her that she made an inference.

The student learned the concept before knowing what the concept is called.  This is quite similar to an instructional method called concept attainment.  The difference is that in concept attainment the instructor gives positive and negative examples of a concept, and the student, seeing the similarities in positive attributes, is able to identify the concept.  The point of the comparison is that rather than saying to my students..."today we're going to learn about inference" and then giving them a definition and a few unrelated examples...we dug deep into a text...found solid examples that CONNECTED to a text....used/discussed them authentically....then learned the concept.

I think the same could be done with other strategies. Context clues, for example, can be taught while teaching almost any piece of literature.  Have each student pick out a word or words that they aren't 100% familiar with, note the page number and take a guess.  By pairing and sharing they will discuss and hopefully, eventually come up with the correct meaning of the word.

I know that re-developing lessons takes an incredible amount of time....but my point is that if you are a future or practicing teacher, try not to become discouraged with what you HAVE to teach...and try and focus on the WAYS you can teach.

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