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11 October 2004: Will This be on the Test? (3 of 3)

Will This be on the Test? is a dangerous disease: more dangerous now than ever before, as it has now permeated all levels of education. How can we expect students to value meaningful learning if we have created conditions where teachers neither value it, nor understand how to teach it? What is there to say when we have pre-service teachers more concerned about passing their exams than learning effective teaching strategies? How will our students learn to think if we prevent their teachers from learning how to think? Now that we have found ourselves in a time and place that values only learning that can be measured with percentile rankings, how do we teach teachers and students alike to value critical thinking? Though I do not have an answer to these questions, they belie a frightening truth. I believe that this most undervalued skill of critical thinking is what will spark the much needed reform in our schools. Only through the concerted actions of critical thinkers--teachers, students, and parents--can we finally achieve an educational system that recognizes thinking as meaningful learning.

12 October 2004: Will This be on the Test? (Epilogue)

After discussing this with a very trusted colleague and friend, she reminded me what it was like to be a teacher and a student at the same time. I admit, my comments are unsympathetic to that exhausting existence.

Probably much as one subconciously chooses to forget images of war or experiences of severe trama, I have forgotten the struggle to teach and learn on the same day: teaching all day, planning all afternoon and studying or attending class all night until it's time to sleep so that you can do it all again tomorrow.

So, my colleage asks, is it any wonder these young teachers just want the key to passing tests? Can we really demand that they participate in learning new ways to do something they spent their entire day trying to do?

My unsympathetic answer is YES. Yes, new teachers should be completely and totally dedicated to learning their craft for one simple reason: good teaching is almost always less labor intensive for the teacher. So, new teachers drowning in grading, reading, and test prep should be clamoring for good methods instruction. Grab your backpack, fill your water bottle and scarf down that burrito because the sooner you master good teaching strategies, the sooner your schedule will free up, leaving plenty of time to study for the RICA.

13 October 2004: Missing the Point (1 of 5)

On August 23, 2004 The Boston Globe ran an article entitled, "Harshness of red marks has students seeing purple"

The article quotes all manner of experts: from teachers to color consultants and pen manufacturing representatives. While there is some discussion among the teachers, the overall statement being made is that receiving a paper covered in red marks may provoke anxiety or stress in a student. Purple, being a mix of red and a more calming blue, is expected to stand out without the harsh emotional impact.

The article also spends some time discussing the pen market. For example, the risks a manufacturer takes when anticipating a market surge for purple pens rather than green. This is actually an interesting point, I think, since most of us take for granted everything that happens before we walk into Staples and buy a box of our favorite pens.

While informative, I believe that in debating red vs. purple or exploring the marketing of pens to teachers, this article is missing the point.

14 October 2004: Missing the Point (2 of 5)

So, what is the point, you may ask? It's my belief and practice to avoid writing on student work in any color. Correcting mistakes may improve the appearance of student work upon recopying, but many argue that it does not improve student performance.

Let me illustrate. When my mother was learning to speak, she called a washcloth "gop-gop." Endearing to be sure, but there's a great story my grandmother tells about trying to set my mother straight. "Say WASH," she would prompt, and my mom would reply, "wash." "Say CLOTH," grandma enunciated carefully. "Cloth," my mother would respond. "Now say washcloth," commanded grandma. "Gop-gop!"

It wasn't stubbornness or stupidity that made my mother stick to her guns on this. Her very brief experience in this world had not yet shown her that the thing was called a washcloth. As her experience with language and washcloths continued, she soon began to use the appropriate word.

15 October 2004: Missing the Point (3 of 5)

As it is with spoken language, so it is with written language conventions. When teachers correct student writing the way my grandmother corrected my mother in the previous anecdote, it is easy to comply.

Parroting is easy enough for even the smallest of children, and adding a capital or changing the spelling of there to their requires no thought at all, because the red (or purple pen) doesn't ask why the change is necessary. Like my mother's insistence that a washcloth was a gop-gop, student errors are not the result of stubbornness or stupidity, but a lack of understanding.

So, where does this understanding come from? Will a student come to understand that all sentences begin with capitals if they see it in red enough times? Probably. Is this the most effective and efficient way to get them to understand it? I doubt it.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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