I sent it to about a half-dozen other educators to see their take, because I really wrestled with the message.
On one hand, I really relate to the message that 17-year-old Suli Breaks passionately delivers, refusing to be reduced to a number on a test. I’ve written in both prose and poetic forms that students are “more than a score”. The insanity over standardized testing was even featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (You should really watch if you didn’t catch it, and if you’re not offended by some salty language.)
Anyway, back to Mr. Suli Breaks. I found much of what he said to be powerful, relatable, and certainly fair.
There seemed to be a hint of devaluing academics in general; a playing down of the importance of one’s education, which made me uncomfortable. Several of the teachers I sent it to felt the same.
I posed this question: How does he show he values education, if he understandably does not value the testing, and that’s all he’s known education to be? How do we expect him to separate the two?
The conversation that ensued had me thinking deeper about this and how it relates to educators. I think it is similar to the crux of the problem those of us opposing the current state of standardized testing face:
How do we demonstrate our willingness for accountability when it has become synonymous with standardized testing?
From colleagues to family, some have asked why I use both Facebook and Twitter. What is the need for two different social media venues? How much can I possibly have to say?
While there is no one way to use any digital tool, for me there is a stark difference between how I use Facebook and how I use Twitter. Simply put: Facebook is personal, and Twitter is professional. This again is certainly not the only way they could be used, but it is the way that has worked for me. I find myself often explaining how my use differs using a metaphor, and some have told me the analogy helps them. I’ve described it here in case it helps you or perhaps someone you know.
Facebook is your own personal swimming pool. You decide who is allowed to come and socialize and swim. You need to monitor your settings to know who is able to see into the windows of your establishment. You can mark people as “close friends” to follow them as a VIP and keep in closer contact with them. Your resort style might be an intimate gathering, a large vacation spot with many friends and family, or a wild spring break party hot spot. It’s a social time, fun with friends and family. And while you can’t control the conversation of all your ‘guests’, you can decide whom to invite.
Twitter is the social media Niagara Falls. There is no controlling the deluge of information and tweets that flood the stream of social media on Twitter. You can choose who to follow, and people can choose to follow you, but essentially it’s a free-flowing river of information and you are simply targeting which ‘water’ you are more likely to sip.
When I want some ideas in the classroom, I search the key word or appropriate hashtag (#). I won’t catch everything in that topic or every tweet from someone I follow (unless they tag me in it with my @teachingspeaks name or direct message me). I just fill my cup as needed, and send out other links, images, and tidbits that I think may quench someone else’s thirst.
Cybraryman has a list of all educational chats. Following a chat is much like a chat-room of the 1990s about that topic. Following a chat is a great introduction to Twitter, since it has a structure and time parameters. It’s also a great way to find people to follow who are interested in similar topics. Of course, education is far from the only topic in Twitter. From politics to crafts, famous tv shows to obscure books, whatever your passion, there’s a feed and folks to follow.
tl,dr: Facebook is learning what’s going on in the lives of people I know, and Twitter is learning about topics I’m interested in, mostly from people I don’t.
They say there is no such this as a bad question, but, “Is this a grade?” makes me think otherwise. This is one of my least favorite questions of all time, and teachers are asked this by students often.
It reveals a student’s thought process on if a learning experience is important and worth their time or not.
I have tried several approaches to this question. I have tried to ban the question from the classroom without success. I have tried consistently using the vague response, “All things in life are assessed.” They have been undeterred. My students have even gotten savvy enough to know to ask, “Is this formative or summative”?
I decided I do not want to answer this question again. To that end, I have created a flow chart to post on my wall:
ReadTheory is a literacy tool which tailors itself to the student’s individual performance in reading. It selects a passage and questions for the student at random from the pool of available quizzes at the student’s level:
Students “choose a level to start.” My students were not aware that it meant “grade level” and some assumed they would start on “level 1”. After completing a passage that was entirely too easy, it quickly adjusted for them.
The video references how it adapts to a student’s performance as they go. Here’s how:
▲ Level up: If a student performs outstandingly on the quiz (score 90% or more), then the quiz is never shown again and the level increases by one.
► Level unchanged: If the student passes this quiz (score between 70% and 89%), it is never shown again and the student remains at the same current grade level of reading.
▼ Level down: If the student performs poorly on the quiz (score 69% or less), then the quiz is replaced into the pool of available quizzes and the level decreases by one.
The teacher receives data charts and progress reports which are interactive and intuitive. The class average, student start level, current level, average level, and number of tests completed are all shown.
I especially like that students get immediate feedback on the questions they get right and wrong, and that for incorrect passages, they can click to get the “explanation behind the answer”.
There are several ways ReadTheory could be improved:
Being able to upload a csv file would have been really nice, although entering students’ names one at a time didn’t take too long.
I would have really appreciated an easy pdf download by class that has the website, default password, and each students’ username in rows to cut apart for easier distribution.
I have some parents who would love a parent log in, similar to what Edmodo, Class Dojo, and Class Charts have, so that they could see their child’s ongoing progress.
Some of my students have noted it’s a lot like Study Island (which many of them had in Elementary school) but without the fun gaming/reward part.
Study Island costs money and I appreciate that Read Theory is free. It does keep “points” in some fashion, but I’m unclear how these are obtained and what they represent. They do not appear to be attached to badges or any type of reward within the actual web App outside of the statement of “You now have X many points.” As I learn more, I may look to how I can reward them “outside the screen” in my classroom.
There’s no “stop”. Our students are trained to look for the stop sign when testing. These passages keep going on until a student chooses or a teacher tells them to stop. Choosing how many passages to do (or a time limit) and having a “stop” pop up would be a nice option.
These suggested improvements aside, I really like ReadTheory so for its ease of use, intuitive data, and personalization for students.
It was just after Thanksgiving in 1985. My family had just relocated from Newton, New Hampshire to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I was in fourth grade, my younger sister in first.
Our first week there, my mother received phone calls from some horrified very concerned teachers. Where were our gloves? Scarves? Boots? Winter coats? I mean it was almost December! Of course, temperatures would have been in the 60s, which would have been May weather for us. Coats? You’re lucky we’re not here in shorts.
Here in NC we have only attended school on both Mondays the past two weeks. During these eight snow days, I have seen lots of commentary on social media about the “Southern Snow Day” phenomenon. The Atlantic did a piece last year with a Map: “How Much Snow It Takes to Cancel School in the US”. They made sure to make the point that it’s more about infrastructure than fortitude of citizens.
Still, comments like, “We’d love that forecast up here in Maine!” or “We have six inches more than you and we’re still going to school here in Massachusetts.” were lobbed at those of us holed up in our homes by mere whispers of winter weather. “We just have a different mindset up here,” one friend of a friend posted.
No. False. It’s much more than your “mindset”. It’s a result of societal, environmental, and biological differences.
A society decides on what to spend its collective revenues. It’s not worth investing in salt trucks and sand trucks and arsenals of snow plows to maintain the roads full-time when your state doesn’t get snow for three weeks, let alone three months. Boston and Nashville are of similar size in population, but it would not make sense for their budgets to allocate similar funds to snow management.
The environment here surrounding a snow event is also different. It gets warm enough here during the day to remelt the snow. Then snowmelt refreezes at night, making a treacherous black ice glaze. It’s not that “southerners can’t drive on snow” because it quickly becomes sheets of ice. Northerners aren’t going to drive on that either, even with your fancy snow tires. And of course all our school districts need is one bus to slide on our ill-prepared roads to be open to litigation.
Finally, there’s the biological differences I experienced first hand at nine years old. I wore shorts that first winter, but wouldn’t now. Our blood thins/thickens due to where we live. People adapt to their environment. There are more heat stroke stories from the north than the south in the summer. They just aren’t as adapted when temps spike. It doesn’t mean southerners should take to social media to call them “wimps” for it.
A month into that first school year on Hilton Head Island in 1985, it “snowed” with the lightest dusting. School completely stopped and everyone went outside. The fourth and fifth grades were in mobiles, and I remember so clearly how teachers and students were running around, laughing, delighted….
I had just moved from New Hampshire. One could literally see the ground right though this “snow”. I didn’t get it.
It had not snowed on the island in over a decade. My classmates, unless they had moved like I, had never seen this stuff fall from the sky in their entire lifetime and might not again until their twenties.
I read Karl Fisch’s great post over at The Fischbowl about the word “accountability” and how too many in education erroneously equate it with using standardized testing to justify educational actions and decisions.
It got me to thinking how this current phenomenon often has educators, sometimes myself included, pinned in the corner of “all standardized testing is bad.” This is an understandable reaction to the ridiculous, high-stakes, over-emphasized testing of today. When one feels they are under attack, they take a defensive stance. Testing gives a snapshot of a narrow facet of skills, and while it shouldn’t be the focus nor the be-all-end-all… it isn’t completely useless.
After writing recently about my frustrations of the frequent pre-screening before the pretesting before the big test, it must sound like I’m completely backtracking. However, it’s the way the data is used that is important to examine.
Testing should be small, incremental, low-stakes, and personalized. If I have a student who is struggling, as a language arts teacher I should be able to request testing to indicate issues of fluency vs. comprehension to know how best to help him/her. It should be targeted and prescriptive, but this would require trusting educational decisions of professional educations, which is not what’s happening in the political scope of education right now.
Even the larger tests that level students in achievement ranges could be helpful if it were early in the year so teachers could use it to help inform their instruction for the year. However, it’s used at the end of the as a summary of what the student and teacher have “done right”. This, again, is a misuse of the data. It’s an autopsy when only a biopsy can help a teacher help a student. Also, inferences are being drawn from the data which does not measure what it’s being assumed to measure. (ie: “teacher effectiveness.”)
Therefore, high-stakes testing becomes the “goal”. Schools can’t test to see what they need to teach, they are too busy scrambling to teach what’s on the test that contains what someone else decided was important and another said it would carry serious consequences for the student, teacher, and school if some bubbles aren’t colored as well as last year. And consider what that these tests could never measure for just a moment…
Your doctor does not decide your heath on a BMI score or triglyceride reading alone. However, that small piece of data can inform a medical professional if its part of a larger picture. The problem is when non-educators in charge of education (which is a problem in and of itself) decide to measure the doctor’s competence by his/her patients’ BMI average (teacher’s test scores). This is a misuse of the data, and a ridiculous way to measure the doctor.