In my last post I was pretty snippy about test prep and reaching safe harbor, and although I don’t regret my attitude (I’m not hiding or removing the post), I think the situation deserves a little deeper examination. What have I actually taught my students this year, and how well are they prepared for what comes next, either the state test or the eighth grade? We’ve had a really slow learning year, it seems like, largely due to the need for crowd control. I bailed on one story that I like so much (“Zebra” by Chaim Potok) because we had to start it over so many times it lost its punch. I think I missed an entire cluster on our pacing guide for similar reasons. Did I miss teaching the standards that accompany those stories? Probably. But I think I miss some standards in the stories I do teach. We are expected to teach a myriad of things, some of them way beyond what a seventh grader realistically needs to know and definitely more than we have time for. That is my opinion, surely, and who am I to question the testing powers that be? Still.
One of our colleagues gives her students large packets of vocabulary, spelling and grammar exercises. It’s all those lessons on the pacing guide that I never get time for during class. I’m not sure if she teaches the concepts before sending them home with the packets, or if she figures they will learn it on their own. I’m pretty sure that even talking about it in class, teaching the rules, only goes so far, and that taking piles of it home to work on for review or “beyond” work is just that. Beyond reason.
Which takes me back to my examination of all this. If I can figure out how to make the parts of speech or poetry or Greek and Latin roots a hands-on activity, will they learn it better? If I make a SMARTboard game of it, will that help? It might help those who put their hands on it, but I doubt that it will help those who just sit and watch. I can make the SMARTboard a ‘station’ in a circuit of lessons, but what will I put in the other stations? How often will I change them, and at what cost of time and effort? So maybe my question is, first, how do I provide a learning environment that is engaging to all those boys? Second, once I figure out what that environment looks like, will I be able to create and maintain it over time?
The harbor is waiting. I must rise to the occasion.