Cultivating Minds Without Losing My Own

Cultivating Minds Without Losing My Own

One Teacher's Guide To Elementary School Survival

To Test Prep or Not to Test Prep, That is the Question....

I am truly opening a can of worms with this post.  There are many educators with extremely strong feelings on both ends of this spectrum.  What is the goal of test prep instruction?  Is it teaching strategies?  Is it exposing students to high stress situations in hope to desensitize them?  These are the questions I struggle with at this point in the school year.  Part of me says that if I have done my job all year, taught to my state standards, followed my curriculum I should not have to break from routine to pound kids over the head with high stress situations and boring test strategy workbooks for a month.  On the other hand, I do believe I should expose my students to the testing situation (i.e. quiet for extended time, in seats, etc) prior to testing so that they are atleast familiar with the routine.  Add to this that there is talk of merit pay and using test scores to factor into determining that and you are left panicked.  If I don't test prep like crazy and they bomb the test, how will that play into my job security?  If I do test prep like crazy and they are burnt out and can't even focus or rush through, how will that effect me? 

I am beginning to think that they should just test the educators!!!!  Save themselves some time and just test us!  Let us stress and worry and sweat over answers in a timed setting and leave these poor kids alone!  Or better yet, why not just pre and post test them at the beginning of the year and judge them (and us) on growth and not just a pass/fail scale.  We have all had kids that we know won't pass at grade level.  Does that mean they have not grown throughout the year?  No!  Holding kids (especially those with known learning disabilities) to a grade level standard is obsurd.  How are we to expect a child who reads at a 1st or 2nd grade reading level to pass the 3rd, 4th or 5th grade test without anyone helping them read words they are unfamiliar with?  Education is an eternal process.  It is never ending.  Therefore, we should be looking for growth from the start to finish of each year and not just a one shot test. 

It's DONE!!!!!!

It is finally done!  My Wix website is finally at published status!  That last post about publishing got me motivated to finally finish what I started months ago.  Well,  that and the fact that I had already agreed to present said website at an educational conference this morning was motivation to finish.  Woo Hoo!  It feels good to reach that finishline.  Take a peek by clicking on my site button on the top of the page or by clicking the link below.  Next goal on my list- finishing my master's degree in Instructional Technology.  I actually made strides towards that one today as well.  While presenting at the From My Classroom to Yours at Richard Stockton College (my alma mater), I visited student records and looked into what it would take to rematriculate and finish.  Watch out!  I'm on a roll!


Cultivating Minds- The Website

Publishing- The Final Frontier

We teach writing everyday.  We ask students to complete work everyday.  So that means they publish work on a regular basis right?  Wrong!  How many times a year do you truly get students to take their work on that voyage to the final fronier of publishing?  3?  4?  If I am to be completely honest I would have to say around a half dozen for my class.  Not every piece of writing is meant for a published end.  Sometimes we all just need to write to experiment ro get something off our chests.   That being said, our students work very hard to create stories or essays and should have that experience of seeing it through to the end.  Publishing does not have to be the long and strenuous voyage that it once was.  It does not need to involve absolute perfection (they are children not pulitzer prize winners).  Published work has a new variety of forms.  Works can be narrated onto ipods and podcasted, put with illustrations in a power point digital story board, acted out and video taped and uploaded to YouTube, etc.  The possiblities are endless! 

I challenged myself to find a creative way for my kids to publish their work this passed week.  We have been working on the life cycle of a plant in science class.  We worked on creating a storybook to demonstrate the steps in the cycle.  This was most definitely a group effort.  Upon completion it looked good....not great.  Disappointed I went back to the drawing board.  I am a teacher who plays music non stop in class.  I need music as background music to center and calm me.  I noticed that my students have started to sing along without even realizing it.  Bring on my next light bulb moment! 

Ok, this next relevation may cause you to think less of me.  I am ok with that.  Upon seeing my kids sing along with Hey Jude, an aha moment struck.  I remembered an episode of Hannah Montana (yes, I really did just say Hannah Montana as in Miley Cyrus as in the Disney Channel- it's ok.  Take a moment to judge and/or laugh at my expense) during which Hannah composed a song about the bones of the body to remember them for a test.  Click on the link if you don't believe me!  I thought, why not compose a song about the life cycle of a plant?!   One bout of insomnia later and voila!  Take a peek at our YouTube sensation (woohoo up to 33 views!). 



And We Ask Why Our Students Act Out?!

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to watch the new Lorax movie not once but twice.  I can not rave enough about how wonderful an experience that was!  The first viewing (and by first, I mean we were the first people in our county!  Thanks to a whirlwind field trip planning extravaganzaa)  was with my class and the entire third thru fifth grades from my building.  Watching "my kids" react to the lessons learned in the movie was truly magical.  They GOT it!  We left jazzed to save the world one seed at a time.  Infact we are starting with our own classroom seedling garden this week.  On Saturday, I watched the movie with our three youngest children.  Their reaction was no less wonderful!  Infact they wanted to know when we could start sprucing up our garden and if we were going to plant some veggies this year too!  What a powerful, wonderful message!  That on person can make a difference with one small seed. 

Ok, so the title of this post is about students acting out....where am I going with this you may wonder.  Put on your seatbelts I'm about to jump on my soapbox and let it rip!   Prior to this truly magical cinematic experience we were "entertained" with the usual 15 minutes of previews.  During which, of course, the words coming from every child within earshot were, "oooooh!  Can we see that movie too?"  Every single movie preview incurred unnecessary violence.  Punching a minion just because it was blowing a party favor?  While I admit I too would love to personally strangle the creator of those annoying party favors that blow out into your face at children's birthday parties, do we really need to encourage our children to beat the crap out of each other everytime the feel annoyed?  Add that to another preview that showed pirates beating the crap out of each other and a small child's version of a horror film and I had an "aha" moment. 

How much time do our students spend watching tv shows and movies?  Chances are quite a bit.  So what are they constantly exposed to?  Violence for giggles.  Now before anyone comments that I need to loosen up, I will admit I too chuckle at these scenes.  But then again, I am not going to go around work on Monday smacking the back of coworkers heads, clocking them, tripping them, or in any other way causing anyone physical pain.  My students, on the other hand, haven't gained that self restraint yet.  And while it may be hilarious to watch a minion or any other ridiculous, inarticulate character beat another to a pulp, it is not appropriate behavior to model to our children.   

"It's just a movie, Carrie.  Chill out!  Take a break!  Relax! Remember what the Roadrunner did to the Coyote?"  True, cartoons of eras past also included violence.  There was a HUGE difference however- these characters were not using fists, but rather anvils.  Where in the world would we get an anvil to practice beating each other with?!  Today's characters use fists.  Something that our kids don't need any further encouragement in using! 


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