Celebrate: A reason to write

Writing is a discipline. One that is easy to question; to talk one’s self out of. I don’t have anything to say, and I don’t have time are easy refrains that justify closing the notebook, and skipping the blog post. What does it produce? Create? How does it better the world? Why write when there is so much to get done? To question the need, to measure the value, and move away from the act of writing seems a reasonable stance.

Yesterday, I listened to Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle’s first Heinemann podcast on their new book 180 days. Today, I relistened to it. These two master teachers hold up what I know to be true. They bring me back to the process of teaching and the reason I teach. And with that, why writing is necessary.

Teaching is day by day, minute by minute process. What I do with a student on Monday, feeds into what was done Friday and all that has been done before that moment. The result of a day builds to the next. One piece upon another. Growing within a unit of study. A piece of a year’s plan. The daily execution cycles in and out. From the macro to the work of the day. And it morphs. Understanding the world of that learner at that moment amongst all those other learners and moments within the standards requires writing to untangle pieces of the learning. Those micro-moments are reflected on, processed and translated to a next step for that classroom, that learner, as I write.

This week my students worked their way through state testing. The discomfort of this was not only about what they were asked to do but how they were asked to do it.

They could not
on the floor with the laptop hovering above their head, not
under a desk. not
perched on a bookcase. They could not
refer to their notebooks, or charts. They could not
or ask a fellow student for advice. They could not
look anything up online. They could not
ask me. They could not
move around the room.

And they could not
understand why.

My nine-year-old students did not
understand, and they asked,
Why not?
 We don’t understand.

As far as they were concerned, this is not
only unfair this is not
what school is or should be.

And I told them, you are correct.
Testing is not how our school life goes.

And  I tried to explain:
It’s like going to the doctor for a check-up.
They take blood, get your weight and height.
It’s a quick way of determining if you are on track.
It’s one measurement of you.

But why?
Why do we have to?
You know where we are.

This was a hard one to respond to. We talked on.
And, eventually, my students did as the district and state asked.
They took the test.

This is not how our school life goes. It’s only for a few days.
But, how can I ignore the questions of my students? How can I not question the process we force students to go through. The mock trial of their ability.  Performance tasks of “real life” situations. Done in an unreal and inhumane way. To children.

This is not to question the intent of standards that ask children to think, read, write and synthesize grade-level appropriate materials. We as learners ask is the manner in which we meet or approach grade-level appropriate expectations appropriate?

The majority of my students are at or above grade level in reading, but for those who are not there yet, how on earth is this test anywhere near what school and learning should ever be?  What is this process doing to children? And why do well-meaning educators and parents keep allowing it?

Midway through the multiple days of testing, one of one of my students, a perfectionist, came to me and said, I’m going to sue the government for pain and suffering. They have caused me extreme stress and depression. She smiled as she said it, to let me know she was okay. I smiled back and said, write a letter.
She asked, “To the president or the governor?”

As long as I seek to engage learners, we will have a reason to write.

Today, I celebrate writing and my students. May they always be intertwined.


8 thoughts on “Celebrate: A reason to write

  1. I am sorry your kids had to go through this. Somehow the comparison with health check might make the process a bit more survivable. And hopefully the rest of the year, the positive experience of reading and writing, helps to forget the stress of testing.

  2. I’ve missed your voice. State testing is exactly as you say. My students hate it. What I love about this post, however, is the beginning where you realize through the journey of writing that writing is important. I want to read more of your writing.

  3. The thing is, you make writing meaningful to your kids even as go through the rigamarole of the tests. That’s your gift to your young writers, my friends.

  4. And you said it correctly, “Testing is not how our school life goes.” It is one of those realities that exist although on Long Island there are more students not taking the test than taking it in many schools. Welcome back to writing.

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