Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Compass

This post was originally written last August. It was a way for me to vent. I'm choosing to publish it now just as a record of my thoughts and feelings throughout the year. I'm also adding in another unpublished post at the end.

Photo Credit: Spock2029 via Compfight cc

During this past week, I've been particularly frustrated with not having enough instructional time to do ALL that I'm expected to do. At the peak of my frustration on Friday, after having given ANOTHER test, I made a decision to say, "Enough is enough!" I'm finished with following the "recommended" calendar for assessments. I'm going to use my professional judgement as my compass to ground me and do what's best for my kids.

Learning doesn't happen based on a calendar. Some students will learn a concept quickly, and some will learn the concept three weeks from now. For whatever reason, I have a group of kids this year that have a very weak understanding of fractions. Following "my compass", I made the professional decision not to follow the math book and to back up and build a foundation of understanding with manipulatives, and other strategies. It took time. I knew that I'd be "behind". However, I was required to give a district math benchmark test based on some arbitrary date. 

Using technology to individualize math lessons has helped my students to close the gaps in their learning. For the first time, they like math and feel confident. But, taking the test too early deflated them. I watched a physical reaction. The old mindset of "I'm a failure at math" took over. They tried for awhile and gave up. And what did that math benchmark do for me? Nothing. It didn't tell me one thing that I didn't already know. I assess my kids multiple times each day. I know who and what they understand. I know who needs extra support, and I know who needs more enrichment. The only thing that the test did was waste class instructional time. 

I'm choosing to not give the math chapter tests. I'm choosing not to place value on the benchmark tests. At what point is too much too much? We have math, writing, and reading benchmark tests. Science tests are being written. I'm not even mentioning all of the other tests. Enough is enough! They don't help me or drive my instruction more than any other type of formative assessment. I'm choosing not to comply. I welcome a discussion.

I'm not against assessment. It has it's place. I'm just wondering when my professional judgement about when and how to use assessments will have value. 

A few days later:

It's no secret.

Yesterday, I worked with two of my lowest math students on adding and subtracting fractions. They have struggled. I've struggled with trying to meet their needs. But they're not the only ones. I have a room full of students who don't have a basic understanding of fractions. With the exception of four students, the class is well below the average fifth grader on the end of level tests.

The recommended pace of teaching the math lessons is too fast in my opinion. There are too many concepts thrown at the kids too quickly. Sometimes there are 3-4 huge concepts in one lesson. And so...I threw it out! Since the starting of school, I haven't used the adopted math program. I backed up to the 3rd-grade core and still had students struggle.

Finally, the light came on for my two "lowest" students! They physically changed and exuded confidence. I had them teach other students who were also struggling. They were great teachers and explained the concept very well. I saw a new level of respect for these two students from the other class members. Their efforts and persistence to learn were appreciated. Yay! That's what I want!

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