During the month of March I am blogging daily with others in the Slice of Life Daily Challenge. Thank you Tara, Anna, Dana, Stacey, Betsy and Beth at Two Writing Teachers for providing and supporting this place to learn and grow. You can read more slices here.
California has given schools this year to gear up for the Core, so our actual, it-counts-test, starts next year. This year we take a practice test. The pressure was lifted. Teachers got to teach all year to the standards without thinking of test prep.
Last week our school received a set of tablets and a portable wifi system. Our students, class by class will take turns taking a part of the test.
Monday I pulled out our iPads and partnered up like readers. I was admittedly resentful of the time taken away from other pursuits but they had to know what they would be facing. They sat down side by side and started the ELA practice test. With iPads for half the classroom, we do a lot of partner work, so they were used to sitting working together on one iPad and thinking. My goal was to get them used to navigating the tools and the structure of the test.
Up until today, I have not done one test passage, nor spent one minute on strategies for testing. I have spent all of our time together growing ways to access their critical thinking skills in reading and writing. They are all not at grade level no matter how you assess them — some are above, some are below. They are all growing as readers and writers, but at their own rate. With all this in mind, I was worried about their reaction to this test. Would they freak out, be overwhelmed, give up? Would they be able to negotiate the technology?
Today I saw my students sit side by side completely engaged in the task. They wanted to know what they would be facing. They read side by side, taking notes. When they got to the questions, they debated their choices. I heard things like, “no this has to prove that, see it says… look at this part…” and “no it says right here paragraph-s, that means more than one” and “I think we should flag this one and come back to it because I’m not sure” and “look the timer says we’re on track.” (I didn’t even know there was a timer!)
What made me happy (if you can imagine happy and test prep going together) was that they were not overwhelmed. The troubles and the strengths I see in these students every day were there, but they were doing their best. They did not give up.
They were calm, focused, and using strategies as naturally as breathing. One student said, “wouldn’t it be great if we could do this with partners in the real test?”
I thought that isn’t such a bad idea. What my students were doing was reading, discussing possible answers, analyzing their thinking, coming to agreement, justifying their responses. Like readers were working together so no one dominated the answers. They were working it out, thinking it through. They were doing Common Core work. All weren’t at the same level in their thinking that was clear, so if students were to work together like this … I know this is crazy talk but what if…
I am proud of them. They are hard working, can do students. If we could take this “low-stakes” approach to the “real” test it wouldn’t be so bad. Call me crazy.