Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What do we define as education?

Recently I visited a school in Haiti, where the kids are desperate to go and break the cycle of poverty. School in Haiti is not free and most of the country is living in poverty and most are illiterate. The only way to escape the life is to get an education, but most cannot afford to go to school. I am currently working with a group to help fund a tuition free school so that these children can live productive lives as citizens. They are absorbing every bit of information that they can, I witnessed a child laying on the ground outside trying to listen in to what the teacher was saying just because he wanted it so badly.

The teachers over there do not give tests. They do not have high stakes tests. They teach. They teach what kids need to know and they teach to the level. Their kids are bright. The middle school class I observed, the students were working on algebra, learning French as a second language, and working on learning some helpful English phrases as well.

Most of all, the students over there are learning how to become an agent of change. They are learning what they can do in order to help other students like them break free and get an education. The education is meaningful.

I walked into my daughter's classroom. Her teacher is excellent, but her teaching skills are falling by the wayside because the demands placed upon her by the higher ups. She is so buried in testing and in paperwork that she has no time to teach. She has to give monthly benchmarks in every subject, and of course that takes away time for instruction. They are assessed by the NWEA (Northwestern Evaluation Association) three times a year (this is to show growth), and then of course, there's those high stakes tests. I get very confused by why we need so many assessments to show growth, but I don't write curriculum.

My daughter is becoming defeated. She says all she does is take tests and she isn't able to learn anything before another test comes up. Information isn't being retained and she is falling through the cracks.

Seeing these two vastly different educational settings, it makes me wonder, what is it that defines education? My daughter is struggling to know the difference between conduction and convection however when we are at the grocery store, she will throw a bag of rice in the cart and tell me to take it with me next time I go to Haiti. Have we in America become so obsessed with testing that we have forgotten about teaching children about what's happening in the world and what they can do to become agents of change? Do the teachers in Haiti have it right? Don't teach to a test, teach to break the cycle?

It's a lingering question on my mind.....what really defines education and growth?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

ELA Classroom Challenges

         While at my Professional Development this week, the focus was on student-centered classrooms, and the need to develop within students, critical thinking skills (among others).  We met in groups and discussed why this is presenting a challenge to us.  My group unanimously felt that a huge challenge was in that it is a culmination of problems.  We all know that the tests have become a series of bubbles students need to fill  in.  Whatever happened to the writing part of the test?  We have noticed a down-turn in our students' ability to write and construct well-written paragraphs and papers, because the focus has shifted.  Writing is not "tested", and therefore is no longer a focus in the classroom, yet somehow we still expect our students to be able to write well.  Impossible task?  Perhaps, when we aren't giving our students the tools to be successful with their writing.

       So how does this relate to critical thinking, you may be asking yourself.  Can students truly be thinking critically when all they have to do is choose the correct answer and fill in a circle?  Critical thinking really needs to be associated with constructed response, whether it be a paragraph or complete essay.  Even our Science teachers would be willing to include more constructed response questions, if it weren't for one thing: frustration.  Teahcers-ELA and other disciplines alike-get frustrated when reading constructed responses, trying to determine what students are trying to say, and just getting frustrated in the process.  Solution?  Bring writing back to the classrooms-real writing instruction-and strong constructed responses will follow. The payoff?  Critical thinking skills will (should) improve because students will have the tools to critically respond in ALL subject areas-simply by bring writing back to the ELA classroom.  We miss you, writing, please come back to us! :)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Share Your Voice!

The Tar Heel Teachers love discussing and blogging about issues and situations concerning North Carolina Education and its various systems! We are pleased to announce that we now recruiting contributors to tell their own stories about being educators in North Carolina! 

Are you a Tar Heel Teacher, too? If so, contact Marlow Artis via email (marlowmartis@gmail.com) in order to join our team and share your voice! We look forward to partnering with you!