In a recent visit to a school, I watched an eighth-grade math teacher move with his students through a lesson on quadratic equations. About halfway through, he called on a student to answer. That student then selected the next participant, and so on. It was a fun way to keep the class on their toes, because no kid knew if he would be called on next. After watching the entire class, I inquired about how the teacher had come up with the system.
“I’m desperate,” he said. “The PSSA is over, and half of the class has failed more than one marking period. They’ve said to me, ‘Why does this matter? I’m going to summer school anyway.’” Turns out that lots of the kids guessed that they hadn’t done so great on the PSSA. Coupled with lagging grades, many students had unofficially checked out.
So what’s a teacher to do? They’ve got a class full of students whose interest is waning. And without the headache of daily test prep, teachers are now forced to reexamine how they work from day to day. In schools where preparing for the state test is its first priority, what happens in classrooms once the test is over? More importantly, how can teachers re-capture engagement to pull them through to June 19?
“I need a gimmick,” he said.
Some teachers, freed from the constraints of fill-in-the blank, can move on to project-based activities. Or, if they hadn’t already, they could take the second half of the year to really get to know their students through units of study that originated from the students themselves. For many, this time in the school year marks a return to “real” teaching—teaching that originates more organically, interrupting the skill-and-drill pacing calendars from the year’s start. Their "gimmick"-- real teaching-- can bring a challenging school year full circle.
One downside to such a switch is getting students to take this new type of work seriously. For teachers, it can also mean dodging doubts from administrators who may wonder if rigor is sacrificed for the sake of interest.
In another school that same week, a pulled fire alarm sent the entire school out to wait for the fire department in the rain. Watching a teacher shake out her coat, I overheard her laugh to another teacher, “Now it begins!”
Does the end of the test signal the end of “real” work for the students? How might teachers resolve this post-test crisis? What’s happening in classrooms once the test is over?
I’d love to hear about what’s happening in your schools. Weigh in here by leaving a comment or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.