Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Five Hours of Instruction


Occupational Therapist: Draw the face of a clock and the time, ten minutes to twelve.

My mom drew a circle and the top of a stopwatch.

Therapist: Can you draw the face of a clock? Start with writing the numbers.

Grimacing, my mom took a deep breath and attempted to write some numbers. Some were correct; some numbers weren't. She knew some numbers were out of sequence but struggled to identify which ones needed to be rewritten.

The therapist patiently gave her feedback and watched my mom as she corrected her mistakes. Each time that she corrected her mistakes, she came closer to being able to complete the task. She was not successful the first day or the second. But by the third day, she could confidently draw a clock face representing any time. A simple task was a huge triumph!

Recently, my mom was in ICU for over a week. The combination of Afib, a UTI, and her age reeked havoc on her mind and body. She is now recovering in a rehab center and hopefully will be released soon. The whole ordeal left me with many hours to reflect. Because I'm a teacher, everything that happened/is happening seems to be related to education. Learning is a process, messy, and takes time.

Next year, I will be required to give five more benchmark tests. That's five more hours of lost instructional time. My students are already subjected to over 16+ hours of benchmark/state testing. Although I'm not opposed to some testing and understand the purpose, I fail to understand the need for more benchmarks. So, I'm asking myself,

"What could I do with five hours of instruction?"

I'd have more conversations. Relationships with students are built through multiple mini conversations. It's important for me to know their interests, challenges, hopes, and aspirations. I cannot be an effective teacher without a trusting relationship. Students need to feel valued and know that I care. I need to know when and how to push and when to pull back. I need to know them inside, outside, forwards, backward, and inside-out. That takes many conversations and more time.

Classroom discussions are also important. It's during these times when we learn about each other, respectfully listen to various points of view, gain an understanding of personal experiences, and demonstrate empathy. Conversations lead us to ask better questions, research, problem-solve, and think critically about what we read. Whether in small groups or as a whole class, when we have conversations, we are learning, and it's visible.

I'd have more conversations and conferences with individual students about their goals and progress. Specific feedback, while kids are learning, is much more effective than an arbitrary grade on paper after a three-week unit. Similar to the therapist working with my mom, learning is a process, and specific, timely, positive feedback is what helps a learner reach mastery.

I'd give time for kids to be creative. Rigid schedules, bells, initiatives, and the pressure to produce high scoring test-takers have squelched creative expression. The suggested schedule from my district allows 1 1/2 hours (combined total time) each day for science, social studies, art, music, dance, drama, and physical education. It's the most unrealistic and absurd part of the schedule. I'm not an art teacher, but I don't consider art as an "everybody color, cut, and glue this down" in 30 minutes once a week as art instruction. I'm afraid that many teachers, crammed for time, leave no time for kids to express their thinking through the Arts. Kids need time to create, wonder, explore, make, and innovate. They need time to use high tech, low tech, and no tech to design, problem-solve, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. Kids creatively thinking are highly engaged in learning, in the zone, and empowered with making their own choices.

With another hour of instruction, I'd encourage my kids to discover and follow their passions. For the last couple of years, one of the most rewarding activities that I've done is to give my kids time to work on a Genius Hour/Passion Project. Nothing can replace the enthusiasm of kids teaching others about a topic that is part of their soul. Nothing even compares to the learning that happens during an Edcamp. The more I move to a student-centered classroom, the more visible learning I see and experience. I'm learning alongside my students.

My list for what I could do with five more hours of instruction keeps growing. I could include simulations, PBL, science labs, play, and more time for reading a good book. I'm trying to create a classroom atmosphere of trust, where we make and learn from mistakes, where kids develop a growth mindset and a real love for learning.

Technology facilitates my ability as the teacher to use formative assessments multiple times throughout the day. I see real-time data and give feedback to my students during the process of learning. I can see, while teaching a lesson, who is understanding, and who needs a little more support. I know when learning is occurring and when it's not. So I fail to understand, why I need to use five hours of instruction to administer a paper test with multiple choice questions. Why are we being required to give tests that give us the information we already know? The data will not help my team (PLC) or me guide instruction.

Help me to understand the WHY.

Is our district mandating so much benchmark testing out of fear that our students won't score high enough on the SAGE tests? Are teachers not trusted to make professional decisions about their students? If benchmark testing is not a "gotcha", why is it not an optional tool? What is the goal? Are we becoming more obsessed with the end product rather than learning as a journey? Are we building a testing culture or a culture of learning?

I suggest that instead of looking at more statistics- to come into my classroom five times throughout the year for an hour.

My students are remarkable innovators of change. 
We simply don't have time to waste! We're busy changing the world!

Is there a need for more data?


  1. Sandy,
    Thanks for sharing. I certainly like your idea for the 5 hours better than state or district assessments. Conversations, Creativity, and Passion Projects are so important, yet they are often the first things to go in a time crunch. Thanks for being a voice for students!!

  2. Thanks Jon for all of your support and encouragement to keep growing. You are a valuable part of my PLN and friend. It's nice to have like-minded educators/administrators surround me. We do need to rethink some things in education. Kids are depending on us!