This summer I am learning Twitter for educational purposes thanks to our really awesome literacy/reading/instructional coach (she wears so many hats). Last night, one of the educational persons I am following posed: “Are grade-levels and age-level groupings a social or learning construct?” To which, I replied: “A learning construct would honor and celebrate kids where they are at.” At which point (one of the things I love about this new thing for me called Twitter is the conversations in less than 140 words or less!), another chimed in: “Where does the [paradigm] shift begin to move from social to learning construct?” And, again, I thought for a moment and replied: “When we take the business out of high stakes testing.” Yet, I kept reflecting…
I was thinking about the depth of the questions asked on Twitter and how I was relating to these intellectually. When I first started teaching 10 years ago, I thought of myself as a change agent. I felt as a teacher I had agency–a feeling which, as a mother of three small children in her mid-30s, was magical and transforming. Here I can thank the lofty, impractical pedagogy and readings of graduate school for this. I was going to change the world. And so, I started teaching.
Ten years of teaching under my belt, these questions all but disappeared. Even when I pose a few at work, I’m met with silence at best or a comment about the size and quality of words I use when I talk. Intellectually, I need stimulation and conversation, so I am eating up Twitter questions and chats voraciously. I discovered I am not alone–there are others who want a shift in one-size-fits-all (and not through lip-service and endless reminders we need to differentiate–duh!). Perhaps, we were told about collaborative efforts and team work during my graduate career, but I was taking notes on what to do in the classroom. In fact, I know we were told we didn’t need to teach to the test, and I have since been reminded of this by homeschool parents and hippie friends and even a few PhD’s. My graduate school was not in the business of teaching children. They were in the business of making money while maintaining a firm grasp on their philosophical mindset.
This is weighty stuff to change a mindset. A paradigm shift means we have to move from where we were to something unknown. We can all feel it happening–why is everyone so surprised that many of the states are reconsidering the Common Core (my home state of Florida included)? Thus, in the second summer of Common Core Implementation, we have lots of workshops to help us embrace this change.
And what we get told? The high-stakes tests aren’t going away (again, duh!). Don’t get me wrong, however. I embrace this change and I like learning about how I can put DOK4 in my classroom on a daily basis. I like that my county is embracing change; nonetheless, I believe we are missing some critical components to make a paradigm shift, even if there were no high-stakes testing at all.
This morning, I read through a wonderful blog: The True Purpose of Testing (another Twitter find!). I was hesitant at first because I don’t like to read about high-stakes testing at all. No one writes articles to or sells strategies so teachers can call parents and tell them their child will be retained. There is no research on how these retentions and phone calls affect teachers, parents, and students. There are no self-efficacy studies. There are no words that can describe what it feels like to tell parent that the State Law says thus (as if the child were some criminal) or how deeply you feel you have let the child down. Yes, I was a bit hesitant, and still I glanced.
The blogger wrote something that made me think of how change could truly happen. She wrote that the planning of testing was threefold: 1) What was the goal of learning? 2) What will students show to demonstrate this new knowledge; and 3) How will students be transformed by this knowledge? Indeed! The word is transformed.
As a mother, I was transformed by the birth of my three children. As a pre-service teacher, I was transformed by the call to action my instructors embedded in their classes. As a teacher, I was changed into the business of creating test-takers. Twitter has transformed me into a thinker again.
We need our students, our children, to be thinkers. We must constantly ask ourselves: How will the stuff we teach transform our students? Is it enough to just teach gravity and change misconceptions and relate our lessons to NASA? I, for one, will embrace the tools I am learning about for my classroom, knowing that the end-all-be-all is that State test (we don’t even know what it looks like yet); however, the questions and the thinking these are the very instructional things that transform us as learners.
It is big business to be in public schools today. It is big business to give the students just enough to make them productive workers. It is big business to sell caps and gowns for high school graduations and senior portraits. It is big business to get students in AP classes. It is big business to adopt curriculum every 5 years. Education is big business. However, I’d like to think of myself in the business of transforming and I’m not so sure which paradigm shift I will land in. I have that tendency to go off-the-grid. It’s going to take collaboration and a lot of reflecting, along with passion, perseverance, and enthusiasm. The business of change is, well, big business (more of the same with a different shirt color), but the business of transforming…that is MAGICAL.