I am on a big education kick right now.
Many people argue that the purpose of testing is to provide feedback to educators, parents, and the community on where our students are at. I fear that too often testing is used as a tool to measure our students, and not as an indicator of understanding. As a student, a test was the ending, the exclamation mark, it most often meant that we were finished with that unit or class. It was not a opportunity to fine tune, to explore the material that was unclear. If I did poorly on a test, there were few chances to learn that material. In most standardized testing you don't even know which answers you got wrong. You are left in a state of ignorance, not knowing which fact you contain that may be incorrect. The blame was often placed on me as a student for not preparing for the test and memorizing the correct information. The test meant that the learning was finished. And for someone with a great short term memory, a test meant that I no longer needed to hold the information. I do not have the burden of testing children, but I am responsible for evaluating my college students and assigning grades. In all of my classes, regardless of whether a test is given, from toddlers through adults, the mentality of being the best, being first, being right, and doing it the right way is prevalent. I believe that testing (along many other things) stresses this mentality. To me, that mentality is socially alienating, does not foster collaboration, creativity, openness, experimenting, or risk taking. I have a class of 2nd and 3rd graders who just finished their standardized testing for the year. They shared with me what percentile they scored in. Why must one student fail to give another student confidence? Why are we constantly comparing one kid to another. A line from the book The Help plays over and over in my head when I work with these girls: "“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” I fear that testing is doing more harm than good.
Furthermore, testing is one sided. As a teacher, I feel that it is crucial to receive feedback on every aspect of learning. Perhaps feedback isn't even the right word. I want my students to feel that they have stock in their learning. That what they think and feel matters. I believe that for real learning to take place students must be allowed to take ownership in their education. I am striving to find the right questions to ask in my classes to let my students know that I care, and that I welcome their suggestions. I believe that these questions are different depending on the age group and class dynamics. I believe that this mindset can create a deep sense of respect in the classroom.
I know that there are many valid arguments for testing, such as accountability and the need for assessment and evaluation. But right now I am having trouble seeing the value in many forms of testing.
I feel full. I am stuffed to the brim with ideas, with new ways of thinking and moving. In fact, my world has gotten a whole lot bigger. Right now I don't know what to do with all this new information. I can not process it fast enough. It is still sinking in, and I feel it washing over me. I have been taking regular yoga and Feldenkrais classes and they have brought to light so many new ideas on approaching movement. I have been reading book after book on education, which has made me realize I've never considered what education is and what it can be. I have always taken it at face value.
In 1897, John Dewey wrote his Pedagogic Creed and included five different sections.
What education is
What the school is
The subject matter of education
The nature of method
The school and social progress
Martha Wittmann said "To be a teacher rather than just a collector of different ways of moving, you have to have some kind of personal belief or vision." Where do I stand? What do I believe in? What do I value? How would I state what dance education is, what my role is as a teacher, the approach I take, what exactly I'm trying to teach ,and the role of dance in society? These are big questions, and it is my hope that my answers to them will grow with time. Right now it is enough to just ask.
I am a horrible speller. Fortunately, there is a little red line that keeps me from making a fool of myself every time I write. For years I've been telling people that I couldn't spell because in kindergarten I was taught creative spelling. At some point in time, I remember being told that when my parents tried to correct my spelling, my teacher discouraged it because it might inhibit my creativity. For the longest time I thought the idea of creative spelling was ludicrous and an obscure teaching method that no one had heard of. Turns out I was wrong.....about all of it.
".....children in the primary grades are encouraged to write before they can spell correctly. "Invented spelling,".....is based, first of all, on the discovery that children go through fairly predictable stages in the way they write words. Their early attempts at spelling (like their early attempts at speaking) aren't random or sloppy but reasonable approximations that suggest a certain level of skill development. In fact, some people in the field prefer the term "developmental spelling" - if only to emphasize that children in such classrooms aren't being taught to spell incorrectly and that accurate spelling will eventually be expected.... kids are inclined to write more, to take risks, when they don't have to worry quite yet about spelling word perfectly- which, at that age, is unrealistic in any case.....Teachers who allow invented spelling aren't saying that it's always going to be OK to spell words however you feel; they're saying that in the early grades, the cost of demanding perfection are too high" (Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving beyond Traditional Classrooms and "tougher Standards" Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. 167-68. Print).
I can't speak on the accuracy of my memory, but I can say that finding this passage brought an entirely new perspective on why I can't spell. I don't think I ever understood that by allowing me to just write, my teacher was allowing me to be creative in that moment. She was allowing me to have a voice and express myself through words. She didn't want me to become wrapped up in the mechanics, but to just experience the world of words. I am not responsible for teaching spelling (Thank God!), so I can't speak on behalf of educators. I can say that I understand this viewpoint. Kids get told all day long how to do things, the right way to do things, and I believe that it is much better to encourage writing in any form rather than to stress the "right" way to write. The kids I teach are afraid of making mistakes, they are so eager to please, and they get frustrated when they don't succeed. Yes, I want kids to learn how to spell, but at what age does it become important to stress that as the priority? I can also say that I never learned how to spell not because no one tried to teach me. I remember endless spelling test and quite frankly I remember test after test of words I will probably never ever use. I never learned to spell because I never cared about spelling. I never saw the value in learning how to spell words correctly. The words I did learn to spell correctly were forgotten as soon as the test was over. I remember asking my parents, friends, the dictionary, and now the internet how to spell, and figured that there would always be someone nearby who could spell it out for me. I still do that, I hollar at my husband, how do you spell.......? So I guess at the end of the day, I should be questioning why do I still have no desire to learn how to spell?
I strive to be a good teacher....and maybe my first problem is that sentence. What does it mean to be a good teacher? What do those words mean to me? I am sure that many people would define being a good teacher quite differently. I think one of the most exciting things about teaching is that you are working with people. And people are unique- there is no one fits all formula. And in my crazy mind every class should go smoothly, without hiccups, or surprises. Every child is unique. Every class is going to be different. Just because it worked once, doesn't mean it'll work again. Someone please ingrain those words into my head. No matter how much I learn about child development, teaching methods, positive languages, ect, it will all fail me. Because we are human.
So here are some ways I was human this week:
I know all of my student's names. I strive to call my students by name as much as possible in a positive way. I have well over 100 students this semester, and sometimes the wrong names comes out. Not because I don't know the right name, but because of what I like to call word vomit. My brain thinks one thing, my mouth says another. Normally this happens on a rare occasion, but this week, it has happened a lot. And this can really hurt a students feelings. You don't know my name? So the only solution I could come up with was to say, "Silly me, I seem to have forgotten even my own name! Is it Suzie Q? Jenny? Bobby?" At which point the whole class goes, "No, it's Miss Rebekah!!!" (These are three to five year old students). At the end of the class, I am sure to pull aside the poor student I have called incorrectly and apologize. I would love any suggestions on how to better handle that situation!!!
The next thing I got a lot of this week with my younger ones is "when are we going to do real dancing?" At which point I feel my heart rate increase, my palms get sweaty, and I tell myself to take deep breaths. First off, let's define real dancing. Second, let's talk about developmentally appropriate times to introduce that definition of "real dancing." I can handle this question from parents who are eager for pointe shoes, pirouettes, and arabesques. It's much harder coming from kids. Does this mean they are not enjoying my class? Where are they getting these ideas of "real dancing?" Ballerina Barbie? Other dance classes? How on earth do I handle this? And to be honest, I don't have the answers, and will be asking quite a few experienced teachers how to talk to kids about "real dancing."
Side note: For the dancers out there, I have a four year old who is doing changements in her other dance class at school. I almost die when I see her knees torque into a very scary third/fifth position. And she wanted to know why we weren't doing those in my class.
So this week I was reminded that I am human. I say the wrong things. I make mistakes, but my goal is to learn from them. To grow. To remind myself that this is a journey, not a means to an end.