We Don’t Ask Enough Questions

OK, admit it. You’re assuming this is going to be about how to ask effective questions in order to increase test scores. Does everything that goes on in a classroom have to be about TEST SCORES? I recently saw a cartoon that made me wonder: are we losing touch with each other? Think in reverse: how would your day be we didn’t have high stakes testing? Personally, I shake my head when I realize in 2014 100% of students must pass standardized testing. But, I digress.

The first thing I thought of, if I taught in a school without high stakes testing, is I’d ask questions. Lots of questions. I went to hear Ron Clark speak at Virginian Wesleyan, and one his observations that struck me the most is he noticed that in high performing schools, principals ask lots of questions:

“Johnny, how did your test go in Math yesterday?”
“Tommy, how’s your sick grandfather?”
You get the idea. The principal/teacher KNEW his students beyond the mere fact that Tommy’s successful passing of the standardized test would get the school 3% closer to making AYP or full accreditation. Why try if nobody “sees” me? If Tommy is raising his siblings and getting them ready for school in the morning while mom is at work struggling to put food on the table, mastering nouns is not high on the list of importance. A teacher raising his voice to Tommy in the morning for not doing homework is not going to instill a love of learning. Empathizing and listening to a student is, and that can start with a question.

Imagine Tommy being greeted at the bus by a teacher, “Tommy! Welcome to a new day!” [positive interaction 1]. As he climbs the stairs to the classroom and eyes his teacher at the door, she turns and says, “Tommy, how did it go last night? Were you able to work on your essay?” Right there Tommy realizes that somebody cares and also is held accountable in a postive matter. First, the teacher is holding him to responsibility, and secondly, Tommy knows the teacher is aware of something personal [positive reaction 2]. This lessens public humiliation, a homework plan can be started, and Tommy enters a safe environment.

Or, imagine a high achiever who is lonely and shy in the midst of 30 other classmates. Sally Sue is greeted at the door by a teacher, and is asked, “I have a project I’d like you to work on with two other people during Science. You’re going to make a video for clouds. What would you like to put on it?” “Wow,” Sally might think, “Mr. ___” knows I’m smart, in spite of my quietness!”

What about taking five minutes at the beginning of Monday’s class to share something from your weekend and ask if anybody else did something new or fun? Sometimes I used to, when a classroom teacher, stand at the door and make funny faces as students walked through the door. They’d laugh and I’d say, “What’s that weird expression on your face?” Starting the day with a smile, a laugh, and a non-SOL comment brought a fresh air to their day. Those five minutes might encourage the students enough, knowing their thoughts and lives are important, that the monotony of irregular plural nouns a little more palatable.

Besides, who wants to spend their 12 years doing nothing but making widgets? Making a community in a school certainly is a sure fire way to increase test scores!

PS: I have NO CLUE what Invalid Forum code means

ITRTs (Virginia) Help Improve SOL Scores

http://www.setda.org/web/guest/nationaltrendsreportEver wonder what benefit a TRT/ITRT has with instruction? Teachers are stressed trying to meet SOL passing score benchmarks, and a recent study by SEDTA (State Educational Technology Directors Association) reports “In 2006 the VDOE…examined the relationship between the instructional technology resource teacher program and levels of technology practiced in schools, impact of the instructional technology resource teacher program on classrooms and teachers, …and on students. The results indicate major improvements occured in 32% of the subject areas tested by the Standards of Learning tests, most dramatically in English reading.” Interested in reading more? Click here: Virginia ITRT program report from SEDTA

The 21st Century School Learning Community

With my heart palpitating and breathing shallow, I realized, after working on my presentation for the state conference, nowhere did I push for how to raise test scores. I slapped my palm to my forehead (and screamed since I forgot I had a headache) and couldn’t believe I had overlooked this Holy Grail of Education. “How,” I thought, “could I be so stupid?”

I looked over my thesis statement for the presentation, and let out a yelp of joy since nowhere did I write that this was the emphasis for my talk. This caused me to pause, though, for I was wondering, is this why students seem to each year dread school more and increase the teachers’ stress levels?

I then decided to see what the latest chatter is on Classroom 2.0 and found an interesting post from Liz Davis’ blog: The Power of Educational Technology about 21st Century learning: Some particular highlights that I copied and pasted below:

“Community is Essential – The school should bring learners and teachers together into a supportive community that nurtures both the individual and the group. The community should permeate all possible spaces, in the classroom, in the home and Online.

Critical Thinking – The school should actively encourage learners and teachers to think critically, continually asking the question, “Why do we teach what we teach?”

Risk Taking – The school should actively encourage learners and teachers to risk failure in the pursuit of understanding.

Learner Centered – The school should surround the learner with ideas and information, encouraging the learner to pursue a wide variety of paths to knowledge, and supporting the personal growth for all who inhabit the community.

Diversity – The school should actively encourage and pursue the input of those both inside and outside the community with a diversity of opinions. The school should consistently check that it is inclusive and supportive of learners and teachers from diverse backgrounds.

Nurture all learners – The school should provide opportunities and encouragement for all members of the community including teachers, students and parents to learn and grow.

Pursue Innovation – The school should actively explore, pursue and test new ideas and technologies, while always keeping the learner at the heart of the pursuit.

Good schools graduate good people – The school should actively and explicitly teach learners to think beyond themselves, encouraging students to value kindness and generosity.

Break down the walls – The school should provide access and opportunities for learners and teachers to reach outside the walls of the school to the neighboring, national and global community.”

Now, I wonder how I can bridge in my buildings the importance of this and the familiar phrase that we often hear, “How can this idea raise test scores?” I miss the days when creativity reigned supreme instead of today’s mantra: GET THOSE TEST SCORES UP!

What do you think?

I had a Dream Last Night and What Does Have to Do With Test Scores?!?

OK–stay with me on this one:

Background information:
–My wife and I met each other in second grade (awwwwwww!).
–This summer we celebrated our 25th anniversary.
–I’m madly in love with my wife. She’s my best friend. My heart still pitter-patters when I walk in the front door (well, go through the front door) at the end of the day and I see her (Honestly!).

Last night I had a dream that I was walking through the mall, and my wife came towards me who was still in high school. She was still in the 1970’s and I was in 2007. As she approached me, I was shocked, as if I was on some TV show. My wife approached me and seemed to recognize me. In order to make a long conversation in this dream short, it went something like this with me saying:


“Man, you look OLD! How are you doing?”

“It’s 2007! You and I got married in 1982!”

By this time, her eyes were popping open, not only from the shock of time passing, but marrying ME. She gasps, wheezes, and says, “Oh, no! Please tell me this is a nightmare!” I went on to tell her what the future would hold: all our parents would die before we had our first daughter; we’d lose five jobs in three years; we’d live in a reconverted gas station between two swamps, complete with a poisonous snake, black widow spiders, and rats; we’d work in Asia where our place would have rats and roaches so huge that you could saddle them up; we’d have multiple health scares, we’d move away from home because we couldn’t find jobs since she’d work at a day care and I’d sub for three years; we’d be financially destitute at times that we couldn’t even afford to buy school pictures of our daughters; and well, you get the picture.

I told her that we wouldn’t remember those horrible times as much as much as how we clung to each other. “The two of us will remember the good times and our love will grow stronger and stronger each year.”

She looked up at me (in the dream), and said, “How can so many hard times be so memorable?”

“Simply put, we learned from it and internalized what was important.”

Now, what does this have to do with testing?

I’m researching for my VSTE presentation in February, and I’m amazed how many great technology has made learning easier in the classroom. My biggest frustration comes, though, in how to get past the, “How is this (my research and ideas) ever going to help TEST
What do students remember the most today: the content (metaphor: how my wife and I are happy in spite of crises), or the multiple choice: not means “get rid of three”, so I remember #20 back then was choice C!” (metaphor: my wife and I don’t remember what we had for supper in March in ’85 as well as how hard life was.) Will students remember taking the test, or the purpose of the lesson?

I think of one student who was taking Trigonometry at a local high school. This is not SOL tested, and thus the teacher was free to teach beyond multiple choice. The student, normally one who got 95% and above on tests, came home with a 65%. He/she panicked when the first test wasn’t in multiple choice: He/she had to WORK OUT THE PROBLEM without the comfort of “50/50” “Best answer” and so on. All students in the class panicked, not being able to take intelligent guesses.

I’m not sure how I’m going to address the Test Score Dilema, but one promising blog I found was Student 2.0. Students are able to post essays, and to be honest, they are quite good and causes one to THINK. Take a look and see what you think. Do students learn more, and score higher, when they are enjoying writing instead of being bored to death?

Also, I’m interested in your comments.