Thursday, April 30, 2015

Choppy Learning?

The days are choppy mostly due to the next leg of testing.

While I remain a fan of streamlined standardized testing, the current testing schedule disrupts the typical teaching/learning schedule for the following reasons:
  • Testing takes time and students are tired after the tests. This leaves little good energy for learning in different ways. 
  • Testing disrupts the continuity of units, and it takes time and focus to get students back on track.
  • Testing has an emotional impact particularly for those who struggle.
  • Testing requires some prep, and prep is review, not deep learning.
  • Testing also pulls needed specialist services from students since many specialists are required to provide accommodations during testing. 
This week we've tried to make the prep fun with projects, teamwork, games, songs, and videos, but we simply ran out of time for the kind of review I would have liked to do.

What's the answer?

First, as I've stated before, we have to think carefully about timing of testing. It's best to streamline the number and timing of standardized tests by giving them once or twice a year at the end of lengthy periods of deep and meaningful teaching/learning.

This year our testing pattern was a staccato on-off pattern since the end of February when we had three system-wide tests, then again mid-late March when we had five PARCC tests, then in mid April we had a system-wide test, and now at the start of May we have two MCAS and three PARCC tests. That's almost three months of on-and-off testing which is not the best routine for quality teaching and learning. 

Another change, I believe we have to make is to think more deeply about educators' roles and content quotients. To teach well today we have to know a lot and be able to teach that information well with a blended pedagogy. That takes considerable prep, teaching, and response time. If an educator is responsible for too many subjects, then there's the possibility that the learning will be diluted. I recommend that this process starts with streamlining the objectives--what's most important. This consideration needs to include what's most important with regard to content/knowledge and learning-to-learn skills, routines, and mindsets.

For example a team of four teachers could each focus on one of the following topics with rich learning projects and endeavor: writing/social studies, reading/reading response, STEAM, and Math. Each teacher could develop depth with regard to the topics and breadth with regard to pedagogy--pedagogy that differentiates. Of course, it will be important for those educators to divvy up the learning-to-learn skills' emphases too. Who is going to build strong independent skills? Who will focus on teamwork, and where will students work on character and voice more? Also, by using PLC and RTI, these educators will have to work together to make sure that their units and projects are interdisciplinary, meaningful, and relevant to students. Specialists could also team with one or more educators to boost individual students' skills and confidence as well as the strength of teams. And, there could be both cross-grade subject PLCs/Teams and grade-level interdisciplinary PLCs to provide the necessary collaborative time for good planning and teaching. 

Our school has included lots of growth and change in the past many years with regard to teaching well. The new testing regimes are creating a new disruption, a disruption that can be met well if we consider carefully the structure, roles, and routines of good learning and how we're going to navigate the teaching days, weeks, and months ahead to support and teach students as best we can.