Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Culture of Testing...Can Creativity Flourish?

Testing Miss MalarkeyEvery year I watch the same cycle...either educators who worry about testing from day one or the ones who worry about testing six weeks prior to the date of THE TEST.  Either way the results are the same...educators worry about standardized testing.  I was reading a funny, well thought out story about standardized testing, Testing Miss Malarkey.  The story is presented from the point-of-view of the students, the actual test-takers.  They mention how the adults and even their parents started to act strange and school as they had know it...changed because of THE TEST.  In art class, they made posters about how to fill-in the circles on the test in a "good, clean, neat and nice" fashion.  In gym class, they began to practice yoga to prepare their "minds and bodies."  Parents started giving their kids power bars to build the brain.  On the day of the actual test, sick, nauseated teachers overran the nurse’s office.  And strangely enough, after the test things returned to normal...leaving the students to conclude, "THE TEST really wasn't that important after all."

The fact is we do a disservice to our students and ourselves by negating THE TEST on the surface, while allowing our actions to show that we are deeply, DEEPLY vested in testing.  Maybe it is because we do not have a better system.  Maybe we are scared to enact a better system.  Whatever the reason, if we accept standardized testing, either by conscious choice or by default, then we need to acknowledge it, accept it, BUT allow for creativity and critical thinking despite it!

The video below focuses on creativity in education.  The test-savvy philosophy advocates creativity and allowing students to be partners in the creation of content for the classroom.


Check out his book: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Writing in Math

Getting students to write effectively and coherently is a challenge.  A challenge many educators feel ill equipped to tackle for a few reasons. First, educators themselves may be uncomfortable with writing, especially in the area of mathematics.  Much of our experiences with math has been very procedurally based using numeric representations that were not tied to any real-world connections.  Second, writing, like reading, involves many subtle steps and seemingly undefined nuances.  The old adage of, "we learn to write by writing," does not seem to translate to student growth in the classroom.  Third, many students have adopted the sentiment that math class is not for writing or that writing in math is hard and boring.

I once heard an author say, "I don't know what I am thinking, until I write it down."  In order to best educate our students for the needs of the 21st century, we have is essential that they know how to articulate their thinking via the communication tool of writing.  So how do we do this?  How do we develop better writers in math class?  This weeks podcast focuses on "7 Steps Educators Can Take to Improve Student Writing in Math" and check out the YouTube Search Story on Writing in Math.

Check out these additional resources:
  1. Six Steps to Better Vocabulary Instruction by Marzano (online in Educational Leadership)
  2. Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Jane L. David (online in Educational Leadership)
  3. Using Writing in Math to Deepen Student Learning by MCREL
  4. Systematic Vocabulary Instruction by MCREL
  5. Inside Words by Janet Allen
  6. Writing in Math Class by Marilyn Burns
  7. From Reading to Math by Maggie Siena
  8. Writing to Learn Mathematics: Strategies That Work, K-12  by Joan Countryman (recommended by Dr. Janine Stewart)
  9. Writing Math Research Papers: A Guide for Students and Instructors by Robert Gerver (recommended by Dr. Janine Stewart)