This week we gave our first quarter benchmark assessments. My students did about as well as expected, I guess. A third of them were “Approaching Proficient” and two thirds were “Below.” They seemed to be disappointed, and as we were going over the test I pointed out that we hadn’t even addressed everything on the exam in class, and if they got certain questions right it had nothing to do with anything I had taught them, so kudos to them! I pointed out in a casual way that it is really is hard to teach them sometimes because I battle so with the talking and playing around and it cuts into teaching and learning time. Nothing accusatory, just saying. It was interested to note that today was a better day. Only an hour together, for one thing. Sometimes I think two hours in a row is too long to hold the attention of a seventh grader. I think we end up using fillers and don’t get that much more done than we would in an hour. I wonder how math and science and history are taught in only an hour. Why is English so much more important that it gets two? I get it for English Learners, but for the majority of kids it really seems like overkill. We are teaching them stuff that is of no interest or real relevance to their lives and wringing our hands when they aren’t proficient at the tests of it. Something is wrong and it seems like no one notices it. Of course that is only my opinion. It could be very important to understand that the object of a preposition is always a noun. But you’ll never convince me of that.
I think it is very important that kids learn to love to read, that they write thoughtfully and well. I think it is very important that they learn to read critically, deciding for themselves if they agree with an author’s point, and noticing the persuasive trickery that authors use. I think they need to know that there are books that can teach them about themselves, about others and the world and that they can be written in lovely and touching ways. But we are not giving them this. We skip around through the anthology, reading a mix of boring and interesting, but honestly, we don’t read anything that takes your breath away. Nothing that inspires creativity or thoughtfulness. Nor are we paced for thoughtfulness. We are paced for proficiency on an exam.
Yesterday we talked about adopting a reading program. Hmmm…should we choose Scholastic or Accelerated Reader? The kids are used to AR, and they have an online program so maybe we’ll just choose that one. When one teacher interjected with a question, “Excuse me, but I barely make it through the pacing guide as it is. How and when can I add a reading program?” She was told this has nothing to do with in-class activities. It is for at-home reading. The kids just take the reading tests at school apparently. And the grades from those tests should not comprise more than 10% of their grade. So now reading is not important enough to take time to do it at school and it is only done for rewards like points and other things? It used to involve prizes. Not exactly an intrinsic reward. Now there may not be money enough for prizes, I’m not sure. For myself, no extrinsic prize would motivate me to read something I didn’t want to read. I’d forego that over riding my skateboard or playing video games any day. A cute pencil or binder? Whatever.
I’m having my kids read for 15 minutes on Fridays and can’t quite get them all to do it. And that time would probably count as “downtime” if anyone in charge caught me doing it. The kids are only checking out books because I make them. So they check out “Serendipity” books or “Ripley’s Believe it or Not.” Great for four year olds, but not for seventh graders. When I try to interest them in a book they just say (as thought it is a allergy that can’t be helped), “I don’t like to read.” And they pull a face. This makes me sad, it really does. They are missing so much, and could easily do so for their entire lives. I feel like we’re headed fast down the wrong track and there’s nothing I can do about it. I hope the high school can deepen things for some of them.
So yeah. Next week begins a new quarter, and I’ll be back on track. Full of trickery to hold their attention for a few more minutes each day. I hope.