Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hurting, Healing, Helping & Hoping

The cyles of life at home, school and work are just that - cycles of very stressful times (hurting) followed by calmer times of healing.  Within our multiple interstecting identities, we help when we can and hope when we can not.  I guess it is just that ol' circle of life they talk about in the Lion King.   It's easiest when there is something you can help....and hardest when all you can to is to hope...!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life in a Lion's Den

Remember that old saying about how IF MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION, it will go out like a lamb? 
Last Friday morning, we had a surprise 8 inches snowfall on my mountain that closed an interstate road for 3 hours - in the middle of rush hour!  As I drove home on Thursday night, I listened to the 880 news, traffic and weather people several times...and nobody even hinted that such as storm was a possibility! So this today, I thought I would look ahead.....and this is what I saw... .
The forecast of ice and snow on March 1st is ANOTHER reminder that winter has NOT yet left...and there is no fury like a season that has not left its mark....I guess we are living this late winter season in a sort of "lion's den".....the weather can still wake up and remind us who is the boss!
I hope the weather people are wrong again this week! 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

With a little help from my friend

With a little help from my new tablet (last post) I am going to challenge myself to write every day in March.  I've planned a series of posts that are really my thinking out loud!  I will try to write about what I think about and talk about each day!  It's a BIG challenge to myself; but, I have already begun to find my voice through this blog!  I think I can...I think I can....

Friday, February 24, 2012

Reading and Writing 21st Century Style!

My new reading and writing device is here :)

Seasons: We Got Three Seasons

During this week of "winter vacation" that so many districts sacrificed due to the surreal weather of early September (Labor Day hurricane) and late October (the Halloween Blizzard), we have clearly had the opportunity to "participate" in 3 of the 4 seasons!  We had a very warm - nearly 60 degree - day with sunshine that made you think of the classic Indian Summer day of late fall.  The trees were bare assuring us that winter was on its way; however, the sunshine was reminiscent of summer.  Then we had a beautiful breezy day yesterday where you wanted to rip off your coat and let the breeze blow through your hair....reminding us all of spring and encouraging us to put away those winter coats and mittens and to shop for bright yellow and orange lightweight sweaters....I actually thought about doing so.....and if I had a few extra minutes yesterday, I would have browsed the "new" collection at TJ Maxx....but this morning, I woke up to the reminder that it is STILL February....and STILL WINTER in the northeast...and it STILL can snow and ice....
I COULD be discouraged...or I COULD rejoice that I got to experience 3 of the 4 seasons this week! The real irony in this year of crazy weather, is that there are districts nearby who were using TODAY as a MAKE UP DAY and who had to close AGAIN....sigh I guess that is called a "snow-day'-snow-day"....

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thinking......About Assessment and its Impact on Teaching

While there is no "school" per se in our part of the country this week due to the "winter break,"  most of us are thinking about and in SOME way preparing for the weeks ahead - busy ones - and ones filled with important decisions that will impact teaching and learning.

One teacher told me that he is trying to get "organized" and plan focused essons for the busy weeks ahead not only to assure his own peace of mind, but also to make sure that every lesson is as good as those demonstrations of our teaching we affectionately call our "observations lessons."  Another teacher mentioned that she is working on some "packets" that will help her students understand the "3rd grade extended response" question on the ELA.  While some of our colleagues are off at the beach or skiing for a few days, they too are planning, sometimes through professional reading and sometimes just through thinking, for the days and weeks ahead.  Effective teachers are always thinking!
I've been researching and thinking about assessments that will support assessing teaching and learning in light of the state-wide Race to the Top Mandate for APPR reform.  It's a significant in that we are using assessments to not only determine student learning but also teacher effectiveness in a far more overt and public manner than ever before. 
It could, in theory, cause teacher anxiety and fear leading to practices that are more reminicent of the Emeror's New Clothes than of reserach-based effective classroom practices.  It is possible that some of our colleagus, unsure of their own effectiveness for whatever reason, might, like the emperor, become obsessed with thinking about and practicing for tests! 

It is possible that some teachers might only think about tests and spend all of their teaching time focused on students' obtaining good grades on the tests.  It is possible that some teachers might have just one ambition: to always have the best scores!  It might, in some cases, be that teachers go out of their way to make students look "low" at the beginning so that they might get credit for their progress....sigh...these are not good thoughts for sure....they are the thoughts of nightmares...the thinking of a teacher who is concerned !

I am not alone in such thinking.....and am TOTALLY confident that excess test prep has negative implications both short term and long term.  I'll write more about that tomorrow!

During the time I was in computer limbo this week, there was another very imporant post on this matter ...check it out..

Monday, February 20, 2012

People, Politeness, Politics

Today, Presidents' Day, is really the only day we have to honor all the Presidents' of the United States; however, like SO MANY of our national holidays (MLK's Birthday,Memorial Day....) it has become a national "shopping day".  In reality, it makes sense that those of us whose normal weeks are filled with work and weekend filled with catching up and getting ready appreciate an extra day now and then to hit the outlet and strip malls checking out the latest styles and searching for bargains.
Today, I took on the infamous Woodbury Commons for an annual / semi-annual trek through the designer shops and outlet style bargain stores.  I really did have a wonderful time primarily because during then long moments between trying on clothes, I had a chance to catch up with my daughter.  We laughed and reflected on trips not so long ago to different stores where we pondered over far edgier dresses.  We chucked over the length of dresses these days and over the quality (lack of) in much of the merchandise. 
When we approached the food court, the crowds were unreal.  There were people eating in the flowers and hanging onto lamp poles as they balanced slices of pizza.  We knew that there would be no way we would get anything without a LONG wait, so we headed to our cars with the intent of going to the diner.....and then we saw a slice of life that did NOT make me proud to be an American shopper on a holiday....
First there was the woman who gave us this extended view of her manicure....because we were in the crosswalk I guess and she WAS in a hurry...that was for sure...I hope her kids don't try that salute in school!
THEN, there was the gentleman, in a large BMW maxi van who would not let me out because he wanted my spot because he did not want anyone else to take it....sigh...I know that does not really make sense.....He also extended some comments about my being female and used some vocabulary that his carload of kids would NOT have heard if they had been in school.....
It really was still a very wonderful day....but if we Americans WANT to keep these special days for shopping and connecting with our kids, we should also practice some politeness!  No matter what political affiliation our leaders have, we expect them to be polite and serve as model Americans. No matter what stresses we adults have in our lives, we need to serve as models of appropriate behavior.
Happy Presidents' Day

Sunday, February 19, 2012

I am learning to live, work and write in the 21st Century

Yes I am learning to live, work and write in the 21st Century; yet, today I feel like a dinosaur who has come ot life after resting for a few centuries - or in the world of technology - for 20 months. In the less than 2 years since I bought my last computer, the computer world has changed so much and I have SO much more data to save and value on my hard drive. 
So today I AGAIN played with tablets and notebooks.  I have explored the ultra laptops and sturdy desktops.  I have taked to salespeople who want you to THINK they know what they are talking about; yet after a couple of days of living in the world of having to buy a computer, I think I know more than most of the salespeople. 
I'd like to say I see where we, as teachers, are headed...but I am not sure. I do see that we have a lot of data that we do not want to lose.  I am sure that I do not need a state of the art notebook to get by; however, I am confident  that computers as we know them today, are dinosaurs!  I am more confident than ever before that the aging desktops issued by school districts are dinosaurs.  i am sure that the desktop I will be purchasing in the morning will be around long enough to save lots of picuters of my family and friends - probably not long enough to see grandchildren.  The future for us all is in ultra thin laptops and tablets.  The future that our children will use is a "light" version of computing technology with data stored in giant data clouds that will hopefully not take up too much of the sky!
 So tonight, I am backing up all my data, books, and powerpoints on a 16gb data transporter and hoping that I do not lose that little disk that holds my life in one tiny microchip!  I am confident that God did not cause this BLIP in my computing life; however, I am grateful that this occured when I had a few days off to reorganize my computing life and try out the available options - there are many!  While there are times when I have counted sheep to fall asleep, tonight it will likely be MB, GB, and GH along with the names of my new friends: Toshiba, Lenova and Asus.  To borrow a line from Clement Moore, I will fall asleep with visions of tables and laptops dancing in my head.  I hope I can get some sleep!  This 21st Century life-style is going to keep me on my toes!

Starting Over after a few hours of mourning the demise of my ol' computer, I am in the market for a new computer - and I want / need it now!  I started my search on this borrowed lapttop...and then went off to COSTCO and BEST BUY before returning to search for review on this borrowed laptop.  You do NOT just go out and get a computer anymore.  You have to figure out what you need....and what configuration will work best for your needs....Perhaps it will be an untra light laptop or perhaps an ultra cheap desktop and an amazing new tablet.  While I think I will stay in the Droid world, a place where I find comfort, I sure do understand the pull of Apple because even if you do pay a little more, there are fewer choices and you stay at one store to do it all!  Thank heavens it is a vacation weekend!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Terrible, Horrible, No Good Technology Part II

While not significant at the time in terms of technology at the time, I later reflected on how technology caused 2 near misses on my trip down the iconic Taconic.  Not just once, but twice did a distracted driver holding a cell phone create a nearly tragic corollary to my day.  Those of us who commute are typically pretty defensive in our driving and cell-phone-users are plentiful during every drive - but this morning I did take note of the 2 near misses. I didn't really reflect on the dangers of technology and driving  at the time - as I listened to the 880 radio news cycle through again and again.  I still didn't realize that this was going to be a day of many technology impacted events!
A few hours later, I logged into check my email to view a train of painful emails about the potential cost of my tablet dreams for my students and fellow teachers.  It was as if someone had take my dream and said, "Not a chance," before the dream had even become a focused grant dashing (at least at the moment) my hopes to model doing running records on a tablet and making pairs of students huddled over iPads recording their reading a dream that was not likely to happen in my teaching-time.  In retrospect, I actually felt some physical pain related to my (at the moment) disappointment. Fortunately, my more technosavy administrator knew how to respond and could execute the right phrase that would keep some hope alive!
It was, however, a very busy day and by the time I hit the enter key to start my PowerPoint on the podium for my grad students, I was already a bit fried and a little tired.  So when just a few minutes later, on only slide 2, the computer screen went blank and the system shut down,,,I did share with the grad students, who were probably hopeful that I might just let them talk and stop lecturing, that it was NOT my day for technology! 
Somehow we survived the class and yes thanks to my very technosavy students, I did figure out that all I needed to just reset the reset button!
For a few hours things settled down; but then as I entered the kitchen for a late dinner, my husband was fuming over a sound bar that when "replugged in with a new wire" would not work.....sigh..I was beginning to think it was me who was carrying some potent technology impacting virus - anything I came near was a near failure!\
Things did not go better when I headed into my office - surely the Internet connection had fixed itself during the day :)  As you already expect if you are still reading, it did not.  After a frustrating few minutes tears, more of frustration for the whole day than out of fear of a computer demise, filled my eyes.  I really couldn't believe I could be moved to tears over technology!
Fortunately, my husband's desire to be technologically savvy surfaced and he reminded me (showed me again) how to remove some unwanted cookies (watch out for Flip Toast I tell you) from the My Computer page.  For a few minutes, until I was too exhausted to see the screen, things seemed to be headed in a positive direction.  I logged off...and went to bed...certain that tomorrow would be a better day...and set my alarm to few minutes early so that I would have time to 1) catch up on those student emails and 2) get on the treadmill to reduce my stress.
If you are still reading, I am confident you know that when I tried to log on to the computer at 4:45 AM,  i knew that my troubles would be a little more tenacious....the screen was blue except some continued cycle of  'cannot start normally' that kept staring me in the face as if I didn't already know that....
Fortunately, my ProFitness treadmill and Sanso MP3 player were working or else it really might have been a terrible, horrible no good and very bad day for a lot of people! 
So here I am, on Saturday morning, logged onto my husband's lovely laptop.  Truth be told, I really should be doing REAL work, preparing PowerPoints and responding to student emails (sorry about that)...but I really needed to write about this experience!  I was thinking about it while I talked to my mother about dropped calls from grandchildren.  I was thinking about it when I was driving home on that still iconic Taconic and yet another driver, who might or might not have been driving with a cell phone - it was too dark to tell - pulled a crazy almost life changing lane-change.  I was thinking about it as I have reflected on how we are NOT giving up on my techno-learning dreams and the research I have planned in that direction for my vacation.  I was even thinking of it while I watched my husband smile as he realized his sound bar problem was related to a plug in the wrong place.
Like those ol' "fables" my third graders are reading these days, this story probably has a message in it for all of us who are technologically dependent - and we all are.  Even my mother who has avoided computers as if they could give HER a virus is dependent on cable TV to provide access to a world outside of her condo.  The message might even be an enduring understanding  that we surely all know even if we don't think about it all the time: Understanding and using technology is an essential part of our lives. 
Of course, that lead us to some more essential questions that might even be more important to ponder:
How do we keep it working?
How do we use it responsibly?
How do we keep from getting addicted?
SIGH.....I fell better for writing all this down....this writing stuff really is an important way of making sense of the world around us.....perhaps I can get on with the clearing and cooking that is awaiting me now....

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good Technology Day: PART 1

With due credit to Judith Virost who coined the title of her classic children's tale of woe and to people out there who know about REALLY had horrible days (I do realize that the woes I am going to share are not even close to real horrible), Thursday was NOT a good day for me and my technology!
It started around 5AM when to save my life, I could not seem to log onto the internet.  I tried all the tricks I knew: plugging and unplugging the internet connection; hitting enter again and again; restarting my computer and even walking away and coming back to the box that held access to my grad students' enduring understandings and essential questions that had been sent overnight. I didn't realize it at the time; however, there were some essential questions emerging from my experience early that morning that would haunt my thinking for a while....such as, "What is the role of technology is our modern day lives?" and "How can technology issues impact our lives?"
After a quick jaunt on the treadmill to reduce my already building stress and an even quicker preparation for the day, I headed off down the driveway.  As usual, I stopped at the bottom of the driveway and did a quick mental recap of my preparation for the day: shoes, extra sweater, extra lunch (Thursday is my LONG day) and cell phone.  As I reached across to the passenger seat into the front pocket that should have been the resting place of that much needed rectangle that takes and gives messages, I came up with only old receipts and some spare change.  Sigh.  I turned around and drove back up the driveway...and began the search...  I am guessing others have to do this - call their cell with the land line?  It is really one of the rare times I use the land-line - but am so grateful for those moments (I don't know what my children who do not have land lines do!) Anyway, it was retrieved from the pocket of the coat I THOUGHT I was going to wear until I realized how COLD that morning was!....
AND THEN, a bit late,,,,I headed off....
TO BE CONTINUED...I have to talk technology with my husband over some old fashioned coffee!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Shoes that Fit and Shoes Fit for Lady Gaga II

While this "slice of my life" was originally published last spring, it's a piece I have been thinking about  even working on (revising, editing) since that time!  Plus, it's really great story for Valentine's Day because it is a lot about someone I love, and   a little about shopping and shoes!  Here is my story!

I bought my mother a pair of sneakers. This may not seem like such a groundbreaking thing; however, it is symbolic of the gradual change of power that happens in all successful parent-child and student -teacher  interactions. On the surface seem that I am taking a small "slice" of life and making a "big deal" about it; so let me give you a little background so you can understand the significanct of the slice of my life.   

From as far back as I can remember, my mother loved to dress up in outfits that accentuated her best features!  She wore dresses that made people notice!  She had a thick faux fur coat (that we called her teddy bear coat) that (at least from a distance) looked real.  No matter what else she wore, my mother was always most proud of her shoes.  She wore incredibly beautiful high-heeled shoes when she went out to any occasion that might remotely justify their wear!  I clearly remember the gold strappy ones that she wore "out" with my dad and the black patent leather one that were her Sunday best!

My mom really was pretty aware of style even though we lived in a trailer (or as she called it, her mobile home) and there really was not much extra money at the end of the week! Shoes were, however, important to my mother and thus once a year, just before the first day of school, she took me and my siblings to the local Stride Rite store for sturdy and responsible shoes. It was a big outing and we KNEW we would be wearing those leather shoes for the whole school year. The pair I remember most was purchased just before I started 5th grade.  I was already a little tall compared to my peers and to make matters worse, the salesman at the store confirmed that my feet were already as big as my mother's feet!  There were not a lot of choices that year that would fit my growing tootsies so I ended up with a pair of brown and beige saddle shoes that were hideously out of style (in my 10 year old mind).  Even worse, in my opinion, they made my already size 8 feet look like they were size 9! I didn't lose much time scuffing those things on the playground and celebrated the day, a few months later, when the same salesman confirmed that my feet had grown so much, I really should not wear them anymore!  Back in those days, I did not realize the financial sacrifice my parents madeto make sure we had safe and sturdy shoes.  Truth be told, I took the acts of running and walking for granted. Oh the innocence of youth......

So fast forward to the story you really wanted to read about, my catchy lead: Shoes Fit for Lady Gaga.  

These days, my mother's social life is significantly different.  She goes "out" to doctor appointments and sometimes there is physical therapy. But, there are few parties and even fewer dress up occasions.  Even attending church is only for special occasions, weddings and funeral.  Mom walks around her local A&P and CVS, about once a week, weather permitting, slowly and hesitantly on feet that are filled with painful arthritis. Thus, mom has retired her heels (although she does keep a pair or two high on the shelf in her closet!) 

As this story was unfolding, even my mom's trusty old Keds, while still stylish, were so painful the she could hardly walk to her car! So, on one of my "days off" from school. she agreed to try on shoes at her favorite shoe store, Hellers, where they still wait on you like "in the old days." The goal was to find a pair of comfortable and light weight shoes that would not hurt her feet.

We headed off with the intent to shop in the "sensible" section of the store.  We browsed through the tables with sturdy "faux leather" shoes, brown and black ones with laces that held them securing in place.  We really did see a few that looked like the MIGHT do the trick - provide comfort and support.

However, the reality was quite different.  It took a quite a while to go through some of the top 20 choices.  Many were so uncomfortable that she did not even try to stand in them.  She was aghast at the prices of some of the soft leather shoes.  Their price tags exceeded the cost of my first car.  There were some gorgeous sneakers with delicate navy trim....but none of them fit just right.

Early on in the hunt, the salesman brought out a box of pink sneakers - yes pink all over!  "I could NEVER wear those," she invoked as they were pulled from the box.  And yet, after many failed attempts at finding comfortable shoes, and with the urging of the salesman AND me, she tried them on.  They were soft and light and lovely to her feet...and well constructed too!  They were, perhaps, more like those old saddle shoes of my your ..the best choice - for now.

As she made her way around the store trying out these new shoes, whose cost did exceed her first and second cards, my mother looked wistfully at a group of "young ladies" trying on shoes that would evoke a smile from even Lady Gaga. Dressed in tight jeans and prancing around on VERY high heals, they were giggling at the potential these very high heels represented. 

As she passed the giggling young ladies, my mother strongly encouraged those girls to take those shoes home noting," Wear them now, while you can!"  She smiled and added, "I wore some pretty outlandish shoes in my time too!"  The girls giggled as they attempted to balance on heels that few people would find comfortable!  I don't think they had a clue about the significance of her words, but they did politely nod and added that her sneakers looked really comfortable!  . 

We left a few minutes later with the new pink sneakers on her feet.  My mother has already assured me she will NOT be wearing these PINK sneakers with red sweaters and will need to get a new pink turtleneck.  I think I remember some vague promise like that as I left the store wearing those brown saddle shoes long ago.  In spite of her complaints and protests, she did have a bit of smile on her face as we left the store.  These new shoes fit her perfectly and are just what she needs - right now.

And then, partly because I felt sorry for the sales clerk but mostly because I have been hearing my mother's messages for decades, I too bought a pair of shoes. My new shoes will be the rage for Lady Gaga in about 30 years, I suspect, because they are flat; yet, they are MUCH fancier than the sturdy and functional ones I normally buy. I guess I really have been listening to my mother.  Yes, I do need shoes that fit, but I also need to wear more "glitzy" flats now,while I can!

As I reflected on the saga of the shoes that fit and the shoes that are fit for Lady Gaga, I really do see a connection to life and to teaching kids to be writers. We are (even when we don't realize it) scaffolding others through our comments and actions.  We provide support for our students when we model the strategies of "sturdy" writers. We are serving as examples and role models as they explore and try to represent the styles of writing that they see in their peers and in popular culture (like Twitter or graphic novels). As our student become more proficient, we, like parents, gradually let go of some of the control and encourage them to write like the writers they are. 
There just might even be a message or two in my afternoon at the shoe store.  Perhaps we should let our students try new out strategies, outlandish techniques, and diverse writing genres while they can and while they have the time. Let them explore monsters and poetry and tall tales because our students can. There will be many years when they will have to write sensibly!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

There are people out there

There are people out there who think like me; however, the fact that I can not figure out how to post on their site is a reminder that I have a long way to go on this literacy journey!

Love, Love, Love

Trust me!  It VERY hard to be too critical of those boys from England who shaped my first awareness of music; however, as the season of hearts, flowers and valentines prepares to overtake us, I am pretty sure that the Beatles (while a bit older) were as naive as I was when they promised, "Love, love, love, love is all you need."
LOVE is indeed a powerful force that can determine not only the direction individual lives, but also the welfare of nations
Its public celebration on February 14th not only brings people into CVS  for hearts and flowers, it also provides an opportunity to stop, in our busy lives, and remind those we love and care about that we DO love and care about them.
However, real love is hard work and so after nearly 60 years of marriage, near the end of his days on earth, my Dad summed up what you need pretty well when he said, "love, yes, and tenacity!"

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Decisive Element

As noted in the last post, I have been consumed with thinking about how to best help students prepare for and cope with high stakes assessments that loom in the near future.  I've used excel spread sheets that span 60 columns to analyze data and reflected on the diverse needs of our students (at least thiose that excel spreadsheets can determine). 
While it is important work, it is not the decisive factor.  

Paraphrasing Ginnott 's ideas
WE ARE the decisive element in our classrooms.
It is our personal approach that creates the climate.
It is our daily mood that makes the weather.
As teachers, we possess tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous.
We can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
We can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, how we responsd decides whether a crisis
will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized

Saturday, February 4, 2012

How SHOULD teachers prepare for standardized tests?

During the first half of the school year, we know it is coming.  Now that the second half of the year has begun, it's clear in the stressed voices administrators, teachers, parents and students that standardized tests loom on the spring horizon.  In New York, it's the ELA and in Connecticut it's the CMT-MAS and in Idaho it's the ISAT.  You can't get away from it! Everywhere there is some standardized, high stakes assessment looming on the horizon.  Administrators ask in strained voices, "How's it going?"  Parents ask about what we are doing to prepare and how THEIR child will fare.  Teachers lay awake at night wondering how scores might determine their effectiveness in the eyes of administrators, parents and the community.  While they are certainly NOT total assessments of teaching and learning, in MY opinion, the tests imposed by socio-political concerns about students' learning are not THE problem; instead, it is what we STAKEHOLDERS
do to "prepare" our students for these assessments that CAN disrupt learning and CAN BE a problem.  SO what should a teacher do?

      1) Teachers need to understand the content and format of the test.  Take a good hard look at what the assessment is supposed to cover as well as state published sample test items (everybody has these available online).  The NYS ELA asks students to read or listen to: folktales, reports, letters, stories, poems, informative pieces, literary pieces, interviews, how-to pieces, classical works and plays.  There are SOME old assessments online and some state sponsored resources to help us understand the format.  Passages can be literary or informational.  Questions can be literal or inferential (Main Idea, Author’s Purpose, Character Traits, Tone).  Understanding vocabulary in context is stressed.  It's OUR JOB to carefully read and understand the standards that DRIVE the test makers! 

For NYS teachers, here are a few places to start:
Core Curriculum  
Past exams          

      2) Teachers need to understand the scoring  At this time, the multiple choice section is by far the most heavily weighted section.  This is probably because it is easiest to score and because it is easiest to compare the scores on this section.  Back in the "old days" when students did lots of Readers Digest Workbooks or SRA boxes in the "reading classes," there was lots of practice with this type of question but not so much reading going on.  So most of us need to SHOW students the strategies of multiple choice questions.  Show them the trick words (all of the above, none of the above,except....).  Remember that doing page after page of multiple choice reading passages will NOT make students do better - and it might make them turned off to the task, bored or even overly confident!  I would, however, LOVE to research the impact of doing ONE guided practice multiple choice question as part of  small guided reading groups!

    3) Teachers need to know their students Know their testing experiences.  For example, all of us  have a variety of testing experiences and test-taking strategies from previous years. Some students worry and other students "space out" during this high stakes events when desks are in rows and teachers talk in stressed voices! Ask students to share what they are thinking and how THEY feel about their own testing strategies - don't just assume!  For teachers of "newbies" (third graders in NYS) who are setting a foundation for life-long testing, our job is to NOT create stress; rather to create competence and acceptance because testing is part of all of our lives.

   4) Teachers need to make test practice as much fun as possible.   If any of us had to do all of the passages in a book - or do it every day - ....we'd be turned off in an instant.  Instead of whole group practice and correcting....BORING....try creating your own passages from interesting and RELEVANT topic materials...try crating JEOPARDY games on your smart board / computer / Ipad.  Try doing just one question with each guided reading group focusing on the types of questions they need to work on!  Ask KIDS to created questions and games for peers - theirs will LIKELY be harder than yours! Try having them compare answer with a peer and making them AGREE on an answer! 

   5) Teachers need to make their thinking and strategies VISIBLE   There are lots of good strategies - maybe I will write more about them in a future post - like QAR and SQ3R.. Model your note taking and thinking and questioning of answers. Model your "turning the question around to start your answer to short answer and longer response questions.  There is an "art" as well as a science to taking tests - and WE can share the secrets!  Remember that short and extended response questions are scored primarily on the extend to which they answer the question. 

    6) Reading aloud, guided reading, independent reading, building stamina The practice of effective reading and listening comprehension strategies is probably the BEST way we can prepare students every day in our classrooms.  Break out your copy of Strategies That Work and scan it over again as you think of the strategies of effective readers.  Building capacity and stamina through our ongoing assessment guided differentiated instruction is the best preparation for the assessments.  We need to ALL remember that we began preparing our readers when they stepped into school for the first time - usually in preschool . 

Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement
   6) Help parents and students know what to expect While we cannot stop the "hype" in newspapers and on TV and we cannot stop parents from worrying about their children, we can assure parents that standardized assessments are only one measure of student achievement.  They are a "snapshot" in time and thus do not represent the sum of a child or predict a child's future achievement.  Remind parents that coming to school prepared to work every day, eating right and getting sufficient exercise and fresh air are all factors in school achievement.  Parents REALLY began preparing their children for these assessments when they began reading aloud to their infants.