Put Yourselves in Their Shoes: Are Students Bored Out of Their Minds?

Yesterday at home, in the midst of blowing my nose, I trudged through my textbook in my Masters class, totally bored out of my mind, frustrated and often had to get up and walk around to relieve the stress. I’d look out the window, try to put on some quiet music, or SOMETHING to relieve the tension, the stress and the stark raving boredom. For example, once after reading four pages, I asked myself, “What have I just read?” and my response to myself (imagine me sitting there in an empty house TALKING to myself) was, “I have NO clue!” Piaget and Kohlberg are not the most gripping, edge-of-the-seat reading, and the terms being thrown at my eyeballs, such as discontinuous theories of development, heteronomous morality, ad nauseum, almost made me want to press my face against the window and scream, “Somebody PLEASE help me!” Knowing that a test waited in the rafters motivated and prompted me to practice my coping skills, but I wondered, “What if there was something else to motivate me besides the threat of a test?”

Then, while on a tangent, I tried to picture a teacher in front of me, pasty colored with that deer-in-the-headlights look, very tense, saying, “This is going to be on the test in May and you better learn it! Come to remediation! We’re going to have seven big practice benchmark tests before May, on top of tests on every chapter up till then! I’m cancelling your recess today because we need to review for the test!!!!”

Where’s the motivation, besides scaring me half to death, in getting me to LIKE learning and attempting difficult subjects because the teachers are being scared half to death because they’re being scared by ___, and on up the chain.

What would I want to see as a student if I was back in K-12 again?
a) more laughing and humor with the teacher leading the charge (I remember my favorite professor in college who would occasionally fall backwards out of his chair, or tell us to put our notes away and just ENJOY history for once, and he was the HARDEST professor on campus whose tests were BEARS. Guess what? He motivated me more to try my best than the ones who were task masters and talked in a monotone all period.)
b) more chance to explore the topic of study. What about a Mashup?
c) let me get up and stretch when I can’t stand it anymore. I can’t imagine sitting for 6.5 hours perfectly still.
d) remember those of us who can’t sit still or keep our mouths closed. What if I could get together in a group and discuss a webquest with a friend?
e) Change location. On warm days, how about if we sit out in the school yard for class?

Anyway, a test awaits me. Now, which of the following do NOT explain the principles of psychosocial theory? a) ……….

“It’s Not an SOL; Can’t Teach It!” Is the Fun of Teaching Gone?

Education WorldI wonder if my fellow Technology Resource Teachers (TRT) experience this: it seems more difficult getting into classrooms. I’ve gotten the following comments lately:

“I don’t understand how you can help my teaching.”
“Aren’t you the computer repair guy?”
“I can’t take time for technology–I can’t get off the pacing guide!”
and my favorite: “We’ll save you for after SOL testing so the kids can have fun.”

Geesh!

Even when I remind folks that I was a classroom teacher for 20 years, their eyes gloss over. It’s as if The Test is looming behind me baring its fangs, sending terror into the classrooms.

And just recently, one of my teachers cancelled his grant project because teachers are unwilling to share their students for a book writing project because instructors don’t want students to miss test reviews. I stood there dumbfounded when I heard this. As a result, I had to cancel a local popular columnist’s visit from the Virginian Pilot from coming back to receive her book from the students’ collaboration project.

Requests for resources lately have focused on test review practice and drill-and-kill sites.

What is one to do?

In a recent article in EducationWorld titled “Has Accountability Taken All the Fun Out of Teaching and Learning?” the author investigates this in an interesting and informative article that you will find interesting. Highlights:

ACCOUNTABILITY NEED NOT STIFLE CREATIVITY
Those of you who have read my past posts know that I enjoy Social Studies and especially hands-on activities, such as a Colonial Fair to reinforce History SOLs. For example, Oklahoma principal Mary Ellen Imbo says, “The tests didn’t stop her fifth-grade teachers from having fun, Imbo says. Those teachers teamed up and brainstormed ways to achieve the goals that testing imposed. Content teachers worked with art, music, and physical education teachers. They created integrated units, such as a colonial fair to meet their colonial period objectives and a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg to meet their Civil War objective.”

Accountability is a good thing, no doubt, but how we do it does matter. I’m reminded of a straight A student in high school who took a trigonometry class (non SOL tested) and failed their first test. Instead of A, B, C, or D, the test was like old fashioned tests: you had to work the answer out. Panicked, they told the teacher, “I didn’t know how to take a test that didn’t have F, G, H, or J on it so that I could do the 50-50 thing.”

Is this how students know how to learn today? Are we preparing them for the 21st Century effectively?

What the Great Computer Challenge Taught Me About SOL Drill & Kill

gcc_logo_small.jpgIn the last millenium (1994 to be exact) I volunteered to be a coach for the GCC with WHRO-TV and CII. Competition was fierce with teams being pulled from the eastern seaboard of Virginia to the Eastern Shore back towards Petersburg. As all good coaches do, I had my teams of three students each stay after school to practice, get critiqued (and slammed, as they would say) and stretched. We’d drill and drill and drill and drill and by the day of the meet, my students were mentally fried.

This routine happened year after year, and year after year, the private schools would win as did the great big city to our east. Being the good coach, I’d say, “Hey, we did our best,” “We’re here to have fun,” ad nauseum. Deep inside, though, I was frustrated. “Why does everybody else win and WE DON’T?!?”

Irritated, the next year our team had only one practice for two hours and they were instructed on the day of the meet, “You guys are to have fun, relax, and try your best–don’t even worry about placing! Just enjoy it!” And truthfully, I did NOT care.

At the awards ceremony on the campus of ODU, the auditorium was standing room only. I sat there with the students, smug, and would say, “See that school over there? They’ll win third.” I was right. Grinning from this prediction, I said, “That private school over there is winning next–they always do.” Bingo–second place! When the judge started prepping and winding up to announce the first place winner, I bent down to gather my materials, pride, and jacket and wanted to exit before the parking lot was full. Tuning the announcement out, I kept on with my mission. Suddenly, the parent beside me whacked me over the head, screamed, and said, “GET UP THERE! THEY’RE WAITING FOR YOU!” I came up fast to avoid the blows, nearly knocked myself out hitting the chair in front of me, and said, “What are you doing?”

You guessed it–my students won first place.

I wonder what we do to students as we prepare for the state tests in May. Are we so frenzied in making AYP, pass rates, and what-not, that we exhaust our students? What would happen if teachers caught their breath and gave some down-time before the Big Week? I tried that the same year as the Computer Challenge, and guess what? My students scored 15% higher than I predicted. We had a week of fun review games, study sessions outside on blankets in the school yard, and other sundry activities that were not drill-and-kill.

It’d be interesting to hear feedback on this. Do we drill students so much that by testing, they’re wiped out and are unable to think?