Monday, March 28, 2016

Twas the Night Before Writing STAAR

It's THAT time of year again. When Spring Break has come and gone, the kiddos start to get a tad restless, and an important assessment is coming up. Y'all know what I'm talking about... STAAR. 

I could write an entire SERIES of blog posts regarding my feelings about high stakes testing for my 4th graders. However, I'll boil it down to this: While STAAR is an important test, it is just ONE snapshot of many to gauge student understanding. 

I struggle every year finding the balance between preparing my kiddos yet not extinguishing their love of learning. On one side, I want my kiddos to be set up for success regarding the STAAR. I want them to walk into my school on the day of the test knowing EXACTLY what to expect and EXACTLY how to do well. I want them to have had experience with the types of questions and essays so there will be no surprises come test day. My kiddos should go to bed the night before the test with not a worry in their minds as they feel ready with all the practice, pep talks, instruction (small and whole group), and writing we've done. They will OWN that test! 

However, another side of me cringes a little at the above paragraph. Isn't the best STAAR prep solid teaching all year long? Isn't that what the test itself is supposed to be- just a spotlight demonstrating what we've been doing to ensure kiddos are on track? "Teaching to the test" is a tense phrase in education- it's usually accompanied by red sirens going off in educators' heads. It has a terrible connotation and rightly so. It alludes to teaching that is ONLY geared towards doing well on a test. There is nothing past strategically answering multiple choice questions by eliminating incorrect answers and proving correct ones. Where is the higher level projects? What about learning through 21st century devices and collaboration? How about applying the knowledge to a real world situation and creating a product? 

I've come to appreciate the middle ground. All year long, I work my hardest to incorporate higher level skills, collaboration, technology and application. However, I also work to expose my kiddos to the formatting of the test. Multiple choice questions are part of a student's life. They need to know the best strategies of working through each answer choice, going back to the passage to find evidence, and proving each correct answer. I want my kiddos to LOVE learning at a higher level, and I want them to excel taking the STAAR test. Is it too much to want both worlds? I don't think so... we shall see I suppose!

At this point in time, when I feel anxious and stressed and pressure, I try to remind myself that my kiddos are ready. We have been working diligently all year long to get to this point. They are proud, they are confident, they are going to SHINE. 

When it does come to preparing my kiddos for the formatting and style of the test, I found this gold mine blog post A Great Big Collection of Test Prep by Teaching with a Mountain View. We incorporated SO MANY of these activities these past couple weeks: Stinky Feet, collaborative STAAR prep activities for points, etc. 

One of my favorite things we did today were the acrostic poems where students used their names to describe test taking skills. 

Here are some precious examples:

After dismissal, we teachers secured some sidewalk chalk and wrote inspiring messages for when the kiddos enter the building tomorrow morning, starting off their days on a positive note. I am so excited for them to see it! 

For now, I'll go and reread my STAAR administrator manual one last time to ensure I'm ready to rock it tomorrow. My kiddos are ready to rock it.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2 Minute Pep Talk for Teachers

Hi there!
The following is an excerpt from an essay I wrote. My sweet friend and teammate Whitney Parlin (Check her out!) encouraged me to share it with others. Hopefully I pulled a Kid President and inspired you to finish this year out strong! You are doing AMAZING things. 
Staring at the glaring computer screen, my hands rapidly try to type quickly enough to keep up with my brain. Preparing sub plans is a job in it of itself. Please complete the activity by passing out A, discussing B, then assisting the students as they do C and D. Make sure student E doesn’t sit by student F and that student G goes to the nurse at 9am! At 11am, students H, I, and J will go to GT class. Student K has been emotional lately due to troubles at home, so please give him a hug if he needs one. Please make sure students L and M provide their best quality work, as they have been rushing lately. Students N, O, P, and Q will stay in for study hall to redo an assignment. Please let student R know that her mom is picking her up in the front loop today. If she asks, tell student S that no, like always, there will not be free time in class. After school, students T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z will come for Robotics club. Direct them to the video uploaded to Google Drive to teach them how to code the robot to turn in a square. 
Whew!That right there is why, in a world of emerging technologies and things rapidly changing, teachers will never be replaced. We serve as an all-encompassing role for our kiddos. Upon our profession rests the future generation, and we educators do not take that lightly.
We plan, grade, email weekly updates, attend staff meetings, change our plans again, tie shoes, comment on students’ blog posts, attend community driven events, smile with students’ successes and especially with their hardships, gush, “Thank you!” when given another teacher mug. We replan, speak with enthusiasm because if we aren’t excited about poetry, how can they be?, search online to find the best way to teach topic sentences, engage in a Twitter chat about learning in the 21st century, greet each person as he or she walks through the door, cut ourselves counting stacks of paper, comb hair on picture day, change our plans one last time, cry when a student loses a parent, write with clear, centered script on anchor charts. 
We leave school feeling exhausted and accomplished at another day spent with the people who make you the happiest, and wake up the next day to do it all again.

Why? Because we love kiddos. It’s what we do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.