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The Writer Who Couldn’t Answer Standardized Test Questions About Her Own Work
This article hits me hard on two levels. One is OVERTESTING! What are we doing when we contrive in standardized tests to create “gotcha” questions that the author of a work can not even answer? The other is a reader’s understanding of a piece. To comment on a work of literature is to bring your own background knowledge to the work. It should affect each reader in a different way. This is not to say that we cannot discuss the possible intended meaning by the author, but to claim authoritatively from a reading what another person thinks is hubris. My view of standardized tests is that you are right, KayCKay; just listen for the cha-ching echoing in the hallowed halls of learning.
Yesterday I posted a review of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories called The Cask of Amontillado. At the end of my review I commented that the story has been analyzed to death regarding the “meaning” of the story and what the story may signify or represent. My final comment was to wonder what Poe would say if we were able to ask him directly. My thought is that he would say it was just a story!
Today I saw an article about a poet that couldn’t answer standardized test questions about her own poems!
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The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America
The Class: A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids, and the Most Inventive Classroom in America
by Heather Won Tesoriero
Heather Won Tesoriero spent a year in Andy Bramante’s science research classroom. Andy, a former analytic chemist, left the corporate world to become a teacher, to make a difference. He and his students are award-winning, and The Class gives an in-depth look, not at what he does in his classroom as a model for cookie cutter programs across the nation, but at the teacher Andy and how he cares about his students and helps them be independent, creative thinkers in science and in their personal lives.
Andy’s students have to apply to be in his class which is centered around independent research and participation in multiple science fairs. Success in the science fairs can result in prize monies and affect college admissions. Along the way, the students learn advanced science (often in multiple fields), self-discipline, how to use professional scientific instrumentation, research methodology, and presentation skills.
The students in The Class live in tony and highly competitive Greenwich, Connecticut. Most would be considered nerds and most, but certainly not all, are from upper-class families. Many are children of immigrants and those parents are highly motivated to see their children succeed. Many of these very intelligent teenagers are also talented in other areas such as athletics and music. They will all go to good colleges.
The Class is formatted according to the school year with chapters about various students and Andy as they move through the seasons. We read of the students’ personal struggles as teenagers as well as their attempts to find a topic for research and bring their project to fruition. It doesn’t take long to become engaged in their struggles and begin to root for a good outcome.
This book has widespread appeal partly because the author seems to be invested in the subjects of her writing and makes them come to life. I learned a lot about the current world of college admissions. I must admit that the science involved in many of the projects was beyond the scope of my science background, but was explained well. I recommend The Class and wish Andy and his students well in their future endeavors.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Ballantine) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Nonfiction (Adult), Science
Notes: 1. Some casual swearing throughout the book by both teacher and students.
2. The author made several snide slurs about the current presidency. Those remarks seem unnecessary and politically motivated. They are supposed to reflect conversations she heard, but they certainly seemed couched in her language, especially a disparaging comment about the First Lady. A writer selects what to share from the many words and events that pass before her. I think in this case she should have asked herself two questions as she put pen to paper: Is it necessary to tell my story? Is it kind?
Publication: September 4, 2018—Random House (Ballantine)
Andy would have it no other way. To him, the whole reason he got into the teaching business was to work side by side with kids, to develop the relationships and let the science unfurl in all of its glorious unpredictability.
“All day, we’re telling the kids, do this, read this, use this—and if you don’t, you fail. They need a space where it’s okay to fail.” —Nancy Shwartz, Cos Cob school librarian and creator of Maker Space, a place at her school where creativity is prized
“We’ve moved from education, teaching people how to think, to training, teaching people how to bark on time. And highly structured curriculum and even scripted curriculum in some places—the teacher reads the lesson. Those are not places where someone is being educated. It can’t be… Which is more valuable to the person and to the society? I can memorize something and give it back to you in an orderly fashion, even in a comprehensively well-expressed fashion. Or I can think. To me, it’s not even a call.” —Thomas Forget, Ph.D., professor and Andy’s mentor
How can New Mexico help its students?
Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!
Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response:
Overtesting…and the beat goes on!
What are our children learning from the current obsession with testing?
Source: Mike Keefe, The Denver Post, 2002
Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education?
I have tried to stay away from anything that smacks of politics on social media during this election cycle. There is just so much negativity I can let into my life. I followed the issues. I voted. Now we are presented with an appointment that might unite the left and the right because parents, teachers, students, and many others are concerned about the state of education–the overtesting, Common Core State Standards, evaluations based on testing, and ridiculous administrative mandates.
I have done some research on Betsy DeVos and there is much I could say. Today I just want to focus on two things. First, her words. In a video I watched she made two very telling statements about initiatives she supports:
“[they] will empower educational entrepreneurs.”
“entrepreneurial spirit will prevail even in the industry of education.”
I find it troubling that she wants to empower an entrepreneurial spirit to prevail in education. Big business is trying to take over education for their own profit and to dumb down the 99% so we are not educated enough to stand up for our constitutional rights. We need to get big business out of education. The accumulating of wealth and warming a seat in the classroom do not qualify one to make educational decisions.
Even more troubling is the use of “industry” and “education” in the same sentence. Our schools should not be industries; we should not make a profit off of them or produce worker bees for the powerful in our society. We are nurturing growing minds and bodies, and we should be creating opportunities for independent thinking–not that of the right or the left, independent. The goal of our efforts should be citizens with a moral and ethical compass who can find satisfying ways of supporting themselves and their families.
Second, her actions. These “education advocates” like DeVos are big money, big business people, and you can be sure that they have their own bottom line in sight with every decision. DeVos says she does not support Common Core. Just take a look at Jeb Bush’s pet project that she has been involved in for so many years as a board member and “education advocate”: ExcelinEd common core “toolkit.”
I retired after 34 years of teaching in the midst of this kind of nonsense, and I saw and experienced first hand the devastating effects it has on learning, creativity, and morale of students and teachers. Why would we continue down this same path, sacrificing our children, to line the pockets of the 1%?
The Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September 2016
Why should the arts still be important in education?
How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?
I teach at a community college, and a professor there created an art therapy club for professors, adjunct, and staff. Nine people attended the first session where they colored with pens and painted with watercolors. Future sessions will consist of making jewelry, drawing, and using mixed media—all as therapy to help adults relieve a stressful week. This is brilliant; however, our primary and secondary children are going to school during a time when the arts are slowly being eliminated from their curriculum. I find this dichotomy painfully ridiculous.
Instead of answering the question this month, I’m going to ask a few of my own:
If schools embraced this idea of art therapy, would we have as many children and teens suffering from stress and…
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Diane Ravitch’s Feet of Clay
Why I No Longer Follow Diane Ravitch’s Blog
When I retired from teaching and began reading blogs, I was excited to find Diane Ravitch’s very active blog. She posted things I had been thinking and saying for years about CCSS, overtesting, and VAM. Diane Ravitch is an education policy analyst, an author, a research professor at NYU and a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. I admired that she had originally supported No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but later publicly reversed her position. She was David against Goliath, fighting big business and politicians in their grab for education dollars.
My idol, unfortunately, has clay feet. Too many of her posts are now only about politics. She says that none of the candidates support her position on education, but she has chosen a candidate to support anyway in post after post after post. She supports one candidate with vehement enthusiasm and works against the other with vehement invectives. What happened to education? She says her blog is “A site to discuss better education for all.” What happened to that discussion?
I do not want to invite one-sided trash into my heart and mind. I want to work towards the best educational system possible for our children. I’m leaving Diane Ravitch behind.
Dual Purpose Blog?
If you have been following my blog, you may have noticed a gradual transition from a focus on educational issues to a focus on book reviews. Actually I have not dropped my interest in developmentally appropriate education, and you will continue to see posts on that topic in the future.
I began “Education Pathways” when I retired from teaching and still had a lot to say about education. As I read the blogging efforts of others, I discovered many (mostly retired) educators saying a lot of the same things that I was saying. Suddenly I was not the lone voice speaking up for children. What happened? Part of the reason for this phenomena was certainly that I had more time to read when I was not wasting time trying to please administrators who had really strange ideas, provided for the most part by highly profitable businesses, about what is good for children. The other big factor is that a large number of frustrated teachers with lots of years of experience all said “No!” at about the same time: “No, we will not go down this insane path that is damaging to children any more.” With retirement, we found our voice because we no longer were threatened and intimidated by our employers. The result was a huge increase in the anti-CCSS (Common Core State Standards), anti-overtesting, anti-VAM (Value Added Model of teacher evaluation) blogging world.
At about the same time, I moved to Mexico (mostly) and discovered netgalley.com* which lets me preview books written in English, in an electronic format, for publishers in exchange for reviews. After a few rusty efforts, I began flexing my critiquing joints and discovered that I really like recording my thoughts about books. So, I set out on a different education pathway that involves reading and which I think intertwines quite nicely with my original focus of developmentally appropriate education.
In the future you will see posts about education and reviews of books for children with discussions of how they might be used with children. You can also expect reviews of books for adults which are soon to be released as well as a few from my own collection or e-books from the Gutenberg Project. My reviews contain little in the way of summaries. Those are readily available from the publisher, online bookstores, and Goodreads. I prefer instead to present my personal reflections on and reactions to a book. Since I can choose my reading material, I will only choose books I think I will like. For example, I won’t be reading and reviewing a horror novel, but suspense and mystery will certainly have a place. Please join me in the world of books as I continue the education that never ends.
*Many thanks to my daughter Tara for introducing me to netgalley.com. She immediately recognized the problem I would have in Mexico of feeding my reading addiction and provided such a wonderful solution which has blossomed into reviewing as well.
At the Vanderbilt University physics building there used to be a huge, several storied pendulum with a mesmerizing swing. I know about pendulums; I believe in the pendulum swing. Education philosophies, methods, and approaches go through full pendulum swings with regularity. I’ve both observed and read about the swings. For example, phonics was relegated to one end of the arc and whole language to the other end. In the middle, for a brief time, we get to experience teaching that makes sense. Some of us have always tried to maintain that focus, rather like keeping true North on a compass.
My latest posts have been reblogs of a few of the many outstanding posts about testing and opting out. I have interrupted my blog posts “I Am That Teacher Too” (Letters to Former Students) because of what is currently happening in education. It is that important. I have waited for it. I have hoped for it. I have prayed for it. The pendulum is starting to swing back towards the middle. I know it is a small movement, but it is movement, and compared to the recent years of intransigence, this is a big thing. The catalyst was the actual testing. For every force there is an opposite and equal reaction. When the force of testing was applied, brave parents and students reacted and said “NO!” They said “no” not just once, but over and over again and in many states. For the first time in years, I have real hope that future generations of students and teachers will not have to endure CCSS and over-testing. I have real hope that joy and creativity will be restored to the learning process.