Standards, Instruction, Assessments, Oh My!
Accountability has become the Wicked Witch of education. It has bullied its way into our institutions of learning and has, in some instances, taken away the joy of teaching. While I am not foolish enough to think that accountability will go away, I am advocating for the death of accountability in so much as it has killed creativity in our classrooms. In my experience, schools serving challenging student populations tend to focus on the basics in a very traditional manner. There is an emphasis on providing students that are below proficient with multiple opportunities to learn discrete standards. This lends itself to a “drill and kill” scenario many students could equate to the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz - very scary and very predictable.
Ensuring that standards are “covered” will only result in short-term success on lower level standardized, multiple-choice tests; whereas, teaching standards that are integrated or taught within an interdisciplinary unit of study allows students to go deeper into the content, to recognize the relevance for what they are learning, and to attain higher levels of learning. With consideration of the national assessment movement toward more performance-based measures and rigorous items, it would seem this is the time to make a radical shift good for all students. Teaching should include opportunities for project-based learning and inquiry while incorporating critical thinking skills and problem solving. While there is a place for benchmark assessments and a scope and sequence, we must empower teachers to veer from lock-step pacing guides to integrate standards into real-world projects and learning experiences. Teachers have shared with me concern over their students reading below grade level or not having the numeracy skills required to complete these types of tasks. However, if not given the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, we will lose them. Students will become disengaged and we will lose something more precious than getting “off the list”. We will lose our children, and I would venture to say, even more of our teachers. These learning experiences hook our kids and increase the level of engagement while making teaching more joyful.
Similar to the way Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion worked together in The Wizard of Oz, teachers can leverage expertise and share the workload when collaborative teams are established. The profession of teaching has changed dramatically in the last several years and without a network of supportive individuals who share the same mission, the work can be daunting. We must create safe places, not only for our students, but also for our teachers. We need to take risks, make mistakes, and be free to learn, relearn, and unlearn. Professional practices that will transform teaching and learning don’t come with a script. The schools that I have worked with that have made the greatest gains are those with teams of teachers that work cohesively and with one singular mission.
Call to Action
Once Dorothy and her team arrive at the Emerald City, they were disappointed to find the wizard was only a character brought to life by a man hiding behind a curtain, some smoke and light effects. Disappointed? Yes. However, the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion soon found out that they had all they needed. It is simply unfortunate that we are in a time in public education where our professional educators go to great lengths to seek answers from the outside, similar to the wizard. I would argue that classroom teachers and school leaders have the brains, the heart, and the courage to make magical things happen for students across the nation. The Accountability Wicked Witch has frightened us into believing we need to seek external programs and reforms – when quite frankly, we need to focus on engaging instruction and invest in the teachers and leaders within our own schools and districts.
Recall the lessons you have been taught in your lifetime that stand out for you. Were they real-world, collaborative, challenging, or fun? Were they hands-on, creative, or product/performance-oriented? Did someone model for you, provide extra guidance, or create a safe place for learning? Engagement shouldn’t be only for those that are already proficient or above. It is key to developing creative learning cultures that result in dramatic achievement gains – and graduates!
Now, put on those ruby slippers, close your eyes, click your heels three times and say:
“There’s nothing like engagement! There’s nothing like engagement! There’s nothing like engagement!”
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