This is my vacation week – February vacation – and I am enjoying it greatly. The thing is, I know that when I get back to work on Monday, everything is going to hit. In fact a couple other teachers and I call it boot camp – MCAS boot camp. We will be in high gear to prepare for our high stakes test. Fourth grade is a big year and boy, do we feel the pressure.

I am sad to say that I succumb to the pressure. What option do I have? I need to teach to the test and even though the real boot camp begins next week, the preparation really began the first weeks of school. Students learn about how to read and understand both question and petition prompts, develop a plan and produce a response. These responses have a bit of a formula to them and I teach it to my students.

Now, this is where I do have many mixed feelings. To some degree, I can’t help but think these are good writing skills to get under your belt, (at least while students are learning the basics of writing) but I have issues with this as well. When we stress the importance of producing a quality piece of writing in a DAY (such as in our “Long Composition” section of our test) are we deemphasizing the importance of each part of the writing process real writers go through? I think so!

I can’t help but wonder if we could find a new way to assess students’ writing capabilities and still find a way to standardize it across the state or even nation. (That is a whole other blog series.)

But it’s not just the writing piece of the assessment, it’s the others as well: grammar, comprehension and math strands. I know these are important skills, basic skills that students need to learn and master, but sometimes I feel as if I’m cramming for the test as I put my class in high gear boot camp. I can’t help but wonder, how much will stick? Am I doing my students a disservice?

Dr. Richard Hersh, a leader in education who addresses assessment, is often quoted, “Life is not a multiple-choice test.” This rings true and is something I need to keep in mind especially at this time of year. Even if my name is attached to my students’ scores, I need to remember that my methods of teaching need to continue to be reflective of my beliefs that students need more than good grades. They need skills that will allow them to be successful in all aspects of life.

This can be done in creative ways that are supported by arts education and integration. In fact that is the topic of the next blog in this series.

So while they do their MCAS prep books and practice filling in circles, I need to make sure that my students never lose sight of what it really means to explore new topics, challenge themselves, try new things and find the joy in learning.

And I can’t lose sight of what it means to find the joy in teaching.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 20, 2010) – How the Arts are Connected to Today’s Education Needs

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