What Does Real Learning Look Like?

This communication from a principle to her faculty and staff was forwarded to me.  This is what real teaching and learning look like - not a test grade.  

I thought I'd share this with you.  If all principals would be so open
> and "progressive".  Our school is not without flaws, but this is the
> kind of dialog we should all be having with our administration and how
> a community can, well, communicate!
> Dear Families:
> Last Friday was a day of wonder at the Brooklyn New School. It was one of
> those days in which all of our values and belief about education were
> clearly on display.  Arbo’s kindergarten classroom had been turned into a
> museum of birds, complete with complex bird houses made out of cardboard
> and other found materials. We had the pleasure of being taught by 24 bird
> experts.
> Continuing up the stairs, we found ourselves in Greta’s second grade
> classroom where parents and students were avidly reading the “Island
> Stories” of 25 authors.  These beautifully illustrated stories complete
> with fantasy and knowledge, engaged each of the focused visitors. We also
> had the chance to admire some three dimensional structures of housing as
> well as some interesting islands made out of plasticine.
> But wait, there was something else going on down the hall.  The fifth grade
> wing had turned into a Mayan Museum where one hundred or so docents taught
> us about Mayan culture, architecture, belief systems, food and lifestyle.
> As we walked down the corridor, we were wowed by large colorful stellae,
> intricate weavings, and dyed yarn.  We had to be careful not to be attacked
> by the blow dart guns that were being used at one end of the hall.  And if
> we were lucky, we had a chance to play a Mayan game of throwing a spear
> through a hoop. Also there, were heavy blocks that we could try to move by
> dragging them on top of logs.  Within the classrooms, we admired beautiful
> Mayan pots, Mayan clothing, and models of Mayan temples.  As we walked
> around, fifth grade students, clothed in tee-shirts decorated with Mayan
> glyphs, said, “Can I tell you about...?”  These experts knew everything
> including, for example, all there is to know about the cacao bean, the
> flattening of Mayan babies’ heads, Mayan dances and rituals, Mayan games,
> Mayan numbers and writing, and Mayan weapons.
> Contrast this with yesterday’s Parents as Learning Partners session in
> which we discussed the upcoming changes to the New York State tests.  We
> began by asking parents to write a few words about how they, felt about
> testing and received a range of responses including, “In most facets of
> life, we are tested and challenged.  We are asked to prove ourselves and to
> support our ideas in unfriendly environments.  These are skills learned
> through testing.” And “Testing is not a good evaluation of intelligence.
>  Human beings are more complex than computers and should be observed
> through qualitative assessments only.” And “I feel angry and powerless
> about the high stakes tests.  It is a waste of our valuable learning and
> teaching time.  It does not test things we really care about like
> reasoning, social /group learning in projects and our teachers’ real
> abilities as teachers.  Let schools assess, not politicians.” And  “I am
> quite angry about the testing because it is part of an attempt to privatize
> and corporatize education instead of really educating our children.” And “I
> have no issues with testing nor teaching to tests (as I believe in teaching
> heuristics) nor tracking by interest/aptitude.”
> We then shared what we know about the changes in this year’s state test and
> the anticipated changes in the tests that will be administered in 2014.  We
> are told that the tests will be harder with ELA exams including longer
> passages with more complex text, requiring that students analyze the
> reading, understand figurative language and make inferences.  Math tests
> will zero in on operations, algebraic thinking, fractions and measurement
> while also requiring children to use multiple steps to get to an answer.
> We explained that in the month before the tests, BNS teachers are reviewing
> test taking strategies and helping students to develop the stamina to
> persevere and conquer the ELA and math tests.  At the same time, we
> acknowledged that we are doing much less test prep than most other schools
> because we believe that it is the day to day work that we do with our
> students, which will be the best preparation for these exams.
> Although the discussion was a lively and passionate one with moments that
> were quite emotional, we stuck to this agenda.  We didn’t talk about many
> other aspects of testing: its cost and how the testing budget impacts
> school budgets, the time taken away from other work during the weeks of
> testing, and the fact that some teachers will be pulled from the school for
> a few weeks so that the tests can be marked.  We touched upon the
> inappropriateness of these tests for some of our special education students
> and for second language learners.
> And we realized when we were done, that parents need a lot more information
> on the realities of testing.  To this end, on April 9th at 5:30, the
> BNS/BCS  Political Action Coalition will present a forum on testing in
> which parents can learn more.  I encourage you to attend.
> All for now,
> Anna
> Quote of the Week:
> After a period of Spanish, Arbo’s kindergarten class was getting ready to
> do Handwriting without Tears. Some of children were wriggly.  When asked to
> settle down, Saniya Lyles said, “It’s just that my brain needs playtime.”

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