Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Apple Recipe: E

As I write about this last ingredient of the APPLE recipe, I can imagine you squirming in your seat. This one is the hardest to sell. The best teachers understand that, at several points along the way, it's important to:

Evaluate. Hopefully, you are gathering important information by playing with your kids, listening to them, asking others for advice, doing a little research of your own, and reflecting in your preparation sessions. These components are crucial. The final step in building an excellent education is to use some objective, outside methods of evaluation.

Every teacher has blind spots -- things that are missed, that simply aren't noticed. Having a knowledgeable person look over the school work and the teaching materials once or twice a year is a good corrective.

I learned this because we are required to do it in Pennsylvania. We have to put the student's work into a binder and show it to a qualified evaluator. In the beginning, this was agony. But over time, we developed a wonderful relationship with our evaluator who gave us perspective, confidence, and help in time of need. Her advice steered me away from the pitfalls of my natural temperament. Her affirmation gave me the courage I needed to forge ahead. Her confidence and insight helped me navigate the challenges of high school. She was our advocate and an important reference in college admissions. There is no doubt in my mind that we would not have been able to do what we did without her.

Standardized tests are another helpful tool of evaluation. Because someone else (usually a friend or family member) gives the student the test, and because their scores are compared to others from their peer group, a test provides information that is not obvious on a daily basis. Test scores don't reveal everything. They shouldn't be used alone. But these numbers can be a helpful tool in planning and meeting the needs of your student, as long as they are used carefully. We can't let them send us into a tailspin of anxiety or let a perceived weakness push us to over-correct something that is simply a maturity issue.

It's easy to over-react to a single test result. I have known a number of mothers who were very concerned about their sons' spelling scores, for example, until I explained the unnatural way that spelling is presented on these tests and how it can set the student up for confusion and self-doubt. These children were normal spellers for their age when they wrote sentences, so it was likely that this was not a special concern. The mothers decided to relax and continue to have their students read classics and write compositions with routine spelling corrections. Eventually, these boys grew up to be very competent spellers.

Test scores indicate important issues like weaknesses in problem-solving, poor listening, shallow reading comprehension, and difficulty interpreting verbal cues. A regular test every year will show patterns in a student's approach to processing information. This can be a key component to making adjustments in your curriculum or addressing specific needs.

Ultimately, you will get the most helpful results by taking the test scores and the student's work to an evaluator you trust. Try to find someone who is experienced and wise, not just a person who lives nearby or a friend who will be kind. You want honest, genuinely helpful feedback that will take your classroom to the next level.

Over time, I discovered additional, hidden benefits to testing and evaluations. These regular assessments gave me some badly needed confidence and perspective. When I put the year's work in a binder, I could see that our program was effective: we were gradually achieving our goals. We could also show the school work and test results to concerned relatives and friends. It gave us a kind of "report card" that my children could proudly show to others. It is primarily through the evaluation process that I acquired the wisdom and boldness I would so desperately need to accept new challenges and take necessary risks when my children matured. The insights I gained also caused me to make crucial changes which made a big difference my students' preparedness for college and adult life. I was able to "tweak" our program and do things a little differently -- resulting in vastly greater opportunities.

Our yearly evaluation meant that my kids practiced taking a regular assessment test every year when it didn't matter that much. No college cared about the scores they made on elementary achievement tests. There was freedom to find our way, to make mistakes, to take a test again later in the year. My students could overcome test anxiety and become proficient and skilled in taking timed tests. Later, when they needed to take SAT's and other assessment tests before and during college, they performed competently under the pressure.

The best teachers are teachable. They seek accountability and instruction. They welcome the input of others whom they respect. A lot of evaluation can be done privately, but we are wise to seek counsel, to include others in our process, to get honest feedback from someone who is experienced and supportive.

Don't be shy about this: ask someone to look over your child's work and give you their expert opinion. Everyone will benefit!

1 comment:

  1. I have so appreciated each beautiful chunk of wisdom and encouragement from your A-P-P-L-E!


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