Monday, 23 January 2012

Taking the Good with the Bad

I'm worried about where the nation is headed in the standardized evaluation of teachers.  According to results of my students' grades on their first writing test, I am ineffective as a writing teacher.  My students were supposed to score a 4, 5, or 6 for them to be considered proficient.  This is the rubric used by my school district to help teachers and students prepare for the prompt on the writing MEAP in third grade.  But if they have to reach this 4, 5, or 6 goal in third grade, how can we expect them to get in in second grade?  Thank goodness I get to choose the data I use as part of my teacher evaluation.  Because I think it is obvious there is still some work to be done with the writing.  In the future I believe the "powers that be" will choose the data for my teacher evaluation rating.

The reason this frustrates me is because there is so much information I have about my students as writers but, this is the data that goes on record.  This is the data that gets reported to the state.  This is the only data in writing we are using to share with the public when we grade student writing on the MEAP.

As I was reading my student's writing there were so many amazing insights I gathered, clearly reflecting the daily amount of time they are spending writing.  The quality of their individual voices in their writing was rich and varied.  Usually, I hear their personalities clearly in their conversation.  But, even more surprising this time, was the amount of voice more deeply expressed in their writing than anything I had heard them say aloud!  This baffles me.

For the first time this Fall I worked hard to teach the idea of theme or lesson taught in each story map.  This means the usual characters, setting, problem and solution were part of the story map.  But, in addition (encouraged by the Common Core State Standards) students tried to reflect about a bigger idea presented by the author: the theme or lesson within the story.  This is a very hard concept to teach.  But to get a seven or eight year old to understand it, this can be even more of a daunting task.  So when my students wrote their own stories for the writing test prompt concluding with a theme or lesson, I was blown away!  Some of my students actually ended their story with. . . "From this experience, I learned not to fight with others."  Or, another student wrote, " I learned the best way not to keep opening up my scab was to cut your nails." It was the ultimate example of the reading writing connection.  Students used the idea of theme at their end of their writing prompts.  Instead of the traditional, boring opening statement of the topic sentence, the stories evolved and drew me in as a reader.  Then, at the end, by stating the answer to the prompt at the end of the piece I was left with a clear answer to the question . . . Share a time you learned something new  Even though the results of the student grades would give me an "ineffective teacher" rating, I guess I need to hang my hat on the idea that several of my student writers are synthesizing the information they learn during reader's workshop and applying it in their writing.

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