As much as I love my job, there is so much about education that I don’t like.
Standardized tests, for example. The idea that one size fits all. Forcing students to learn inside a box into which so many of them don’t fit.
The dynamic in my classroom is a perfect example of why standardized anything doesn’t work. I have a high number of students with IEPs for various learning difficulties. I have a high number of students for whom English is a second, or even third language. For many of my students, English is a subject to be feared rather than enjoyed. To many of them, reading feels like awfully hard work.
So, reading passages and bubbling in responses on a standardized test is a difficult, daunting task.
The catch is that they are all such bright, creative, capable kids. But, their test scores don’t show it. Our baseline (standardized) test this year proved that much: the scores weren’t so great.
And, the test was not hard. Or, at least standards-wise it wasn’t. But add in limited English proficiency, or any number of learning difficulties, and that “not hard” standardized test was…well, hard.
Clearly, standardizing everything doesn’t work for my kids. But, we have to teach the standards. How, as teachers, do we unstandardize standardization in order to help all students learn?
This is a question with which I have continually grappled the last couple of years. But, this year, I may have found my answer in Project-Based Learning.
When school started five weeks ago, we started our first PBL unit. Having never attempted PBL before, I didn’t know what I was in for. I was out of my comfort zone as I gave much of the control to my students, and let them drive the content. They picked their core text for the unit. I used their questions and struggles to choose additional content and in-class activities. There was no reading schedule for this unit. Their “test” at the end didn’t involve pencil and scantron; it involved creativity. I only had a vague conception of where I was going; it was like moving around blindfolded, hoping I didn’t trip over anything too big.
I was so worried about the logistics and the planning and the minute details that I don’t think I truly realized the beauty of PBL until yesterday: It gets rid of the box. We covered Common Core Standards without scantrons. And my non-standardized kids understand them.
Yesterday was “test” day: A student art gallery. You can see some of the results in my photos above. You can see how absolutely, unbelievably amazing my students are. You can see that they are more than standardized anything.
I didn’t realize how much I had invested in this unit until I was driving home yesterday. I thought about some of my students:
An autistic student who created a beautiful painting, then eloquently explained to me how the emotion expressed in the painting was based on the personal connections made to the autistic main character in the book;
A student who has difficulty finishing work within the alloted timeframe, who painstakingly created a jaw-droppingly beautiful painting about loneliness;
An ESL student who was having trouble understanding English emotion words, who found a connection based on a Chinese emotion word without an English equivalent.
I couldn’t help it — I cried.
I’m so proud of these kids. I’m so proud of their willingness to step out of their comfort zones, to be vulnerable, and to forge connections with the literature they read.
And, I’m glad that we finally have a way to be rid of the box.