Tag Archives: esl

Come See Failure at it’s Finest!


An open invitation to politicians, education “experts,” testing lovers, and other assorted nincompoops.

~~~

WHO:

Come see LIVE, REAL-LIFE kids frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, disinterested, annoyed, and upset. If you’re lucky, you might see one cry! ALL TYPES OF CHILDREN with ALL TYPES OF DISABILITIES! Some can barely read! Some can barely speak English!

WHAT:

Taking tests: tests for baseline data, tests for post-data, tests for multi-billion dollar corporations to use as experiments, and more! Reading, writing, math, and more, MORE, MORE!!!

WHEN:

Any time they take a standardized test, be it formative, baseline, benchmark, summative, state, city, national, or otherwise. (Check your calendars – MANY days available for testing throughout the year!)

WHERE:

Special education and ESL classrooms around the country.

WHY:

Damned if I know.

~~~

RSVP to your political representatives, school administrators, and peers.

Some Try, Some Fail, and All Suffer


Over the past, literally, four days, I administered an end of unit reading and writing assessment to my class of 12 students with disabilities (11 of whom receive English as a Second Language services).

This assessment featured: two passages that were both two pages long, a bunch of multiple choice questions after each (some with two parts, where the second part built upon the first), a written constructed response for each, and a written extended response that required using both passages. Is it any wonder it took us, literally, over 4 hours to finish?

The reading was dense (regardless of me reading each passage twice). The questions were wordy. The writing prompts were confusing. Without even looking at the finished products, I’d venture that most, and probably all, of my students showed no understanding of what is expected (not by me, mind you, but by the geniuses who come up with this arbitrary and overwhelming stuff).

They all told me it was too hard. Some of them asked me what they had to do. Many of them told me they didn’t know what to write. A lot of them copied straight from the passage (regardless of how many times I said, “Make sure you put it in your own words.”)

And three of them cried.

On day one, a boy refused to even take a guess at a multiple choice question. “I’m scared,” he said. “Just put anything, it doesn’t matter,” I told him, to no avail. His eyes reddened and welled with tears, and the tears dropped onto the floor as he looked down. His neighbor leaned over and said, “Come on, just circle A, B, C, or D.” Hoping to show him that everyone was in the same boat, I told him to watch as I surveyed the class: “Who thinks this is hard?” It didn’t matter to him that all hands went up. He was crippled by anxiety.

On day three, my student who is by far the most significantly behind in reading and writing, refused to write anything. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Regardless of how many times my para and I told her or encouraged her, she wouldn’t do anything but put her head on the desk. In the end, she cried as well.

Today, I wised up and had the students highlight what they needed to do. I read the prompt to them several times and directed them how to turn back to the passages. One girl repeatedly said, “I can’t,” and “I don’t know,” and, “I need help.” I explained to her it was like a writing test, so I couldn’t help. “But it’s hard!” “Yes, it is,” I agreed. Again, I polled the class to see who thought it was hard. All hands went up. Then I said, “Put your hand up if I’m helping you.” No hands went up. It didn’t impress her. She wrote nothing and will take a zero on that part of the assessment.

What did I learn about my students from this? Nothing I don’t already know. The notion that they are asked to do work that is totally inappropriate to their current abilities was clearly reinforced.

What did my students learn? Maybe what they’re going to find out eventually anyway, as long as our education system doesn’t adapt to valuing all abilities and the differences among our students: They’re worthless.

Why do we do this to them?

My Little Wordsmiths


This has probably been the most challenging start to a school year that I’ve had in my six-year career. Challenges are waiting on all sides: a new teacher evaluation system and its components, push-in and pull-out services in flux due to demands on the providing teachers’ time, failure by the city to provide supplies in a timely fashion, and for me, a class that doesn’t quite seem to be jelling behaviorally.

Despite it all, there is incremental academic progress. We can now round numbers to the nearest ten and hundred (at least with more consistency than there had been). We are better in our routines. And we are having discussions about books that are way way WAY above our reading levels (Common Core and the whole one-size-fits-all deal, amiright?)

The most exciting development in my class has, in actuality, come about due to those Common Core texts. As part of our new evaluation system, we were asked as to identify a couple of goals for ourselves. One of mine was to increase students’ vocabulary through reading “grade-level” and “rigorous” texts. So starting with our first book of the month selection, I began pre-teaching rich and wonderful vocabulary words, pinning them up in the room, using them in my speech, and encouraging my students to do the same, as well as in their writing.

I am definitely a word nerd. People often ask me what words mean and admonish me for, “always having to use SAT words.” So it is particularly splendid to hear and watch my little darlings expanding their vocabulary with some legit words.

Some of their favorites: superb, efficient, error, the idiom “dark day,” scribble, gasp, and overwhelmed. They are using them in unexpectedly accurate and creative ways. Some examples:

  • Upon showing me completed math work and me checking it, “Is it superb?” followed inevitably by, “Can you write superb?”
  • Upon noticing a mistake made my be, a peer, or themselves, calling out, “Oh, error!”
  • Upon me having to erase something I wrote because it was sloppy, “That’s scribble! Error!”
  • Upon noticing someone is upset or struggling, or just that the general mood in the room is not as chipper as we’d like, “This is a dark day.”
  • Upon searching for ways to describe the detectives in the book we’re reading, “They’re really efficient at solving problems.”
  • And just today, during the heat of a particularly aggravating series of moments during which all the math we’ve done for six weeks seemed to vanish into thin air and I pretty much lost it, “Mr. Ray, you’re overwhelmed.”
  • One more. As we lined up to leave today, it must have been obvious how exasperated I was. So one of my wittier boys said, “Mr. Ray, you look exhausted.” “I am,” I said. His reply? “And overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with anger.” How can I not smile? One of my colleagues heard it and cracked up.

It’s truly amazing to be a part of this. We’re talking about kids reading and writing 2 and 3 years behind grade-level. But they’ve added a repertoire of words to their vocabulary that they’re learning to use appropriately. It’s been slower to get them to use the words in their writing, but when I suggest it, they’re overwhelmed with excitement. They love it. One girl came up to me during reading today to show me that she found the word “gasped.” It was for her, like, The. Greatest. Thing. Ever. She even felt the need to shake my hand to congratulate herself.

Oh, and by the way, since everything now needs to be tested – because what better way to spend our time than with tests? – I am administering pre- and post-tests before and after we read the chapters from which these words are pulled. As I get the hang of teaching the words and making them commonplace, I am finding that most students know none of the words prior to me exposing them to the class, and that when I administer the post-test, most students know all or most of the new words.

A class of word nerds may be just what I need to keep myself afloat. That’d be superb.

A Question on Testing: What’s the Point?


My students – with their IEPS, modifications, accommodations, academic struggles, and all – just completed a three-day ELA test.

On day one, they did their best. On day two, they tried their hardest. And on day three, they slogged up the stairs, uninterested in and unmotivated by the prospect of facing this even one more time.

An hour and 45 minutes on day one. An hour and 45 minutes on day two. An hour and 45 minutes on day three. In all: five hours and 15 minutes across three days. Five hours and 15 minutes of silence, confusion, doubt, and frustration. Yes, they were willing to give it “The Ol’ College (and Career-Ready) Try,” but by day three, they had seen and had enough.

What will these tests show that we don’t already know? That they read significantly below grade level (by any standards, Common Core or otherwise)? That their writing ability doesn’t reflect their speaking ability or intelligence? What’s the point?

They were finished with day three by the end of day two. All they cared about this morning was that after today, this test would be done.

Do you think my students are the only ones who felt that way? Why do we subject them to so many hours? Shouldn’t, say, 20 multiple choice questions and two or three essays suffice? The kids are not interested or invested, so they’re not at their best.

Do these tests show the full scope of my students’ capabilities? Or the capabilities of others?

I think we all know the answer to those questions.

Fake It ‘Til You Make It…If You Make It At All


They’re silent. At least they got that much out of this. You can’t talk during a test, plain and simple. Even the slightest sniffle or throat clearing will be treated with suspicion.

Some of them are looking back to the passages – maybe they’ll pull it out. Sure, I know no one expects good grades on this year’s tests. But maybe, just maybe, these kids will pull off a shocker.

Or…maybe they know “What Good Test Taking Looks Like,” so they’re turning back, putting pencil to chin in a thinking pose, and underlining.

But I see in their faces that nothing here makes sense. The words are too long and too many. The questions are too boring and too many.

But they try. They’re too young to realize that, while the test is hard for many their age, it’s even harder for them.

What are they learning from this experience? You gotta fake it ’til you make it.

But with tests like these determining who’s smart and who’s stupid, how could they ever make it?

Dear Students: On the Eve of Your First Test


Dear students,

Today, tomorrow, and Thursday, I will try to treat the day like I would any other. Only thing is, despite my attempts at geniality and mirth, you’ll probably notice the heavy and dark curtain of The Test draped on the walls of every classroom and evident in the halls of every floor.

So, it is likely that you will enter into a state of nervousness, even self-doubt, both of which will be exacerbated – depending on who you are – by the horror that stirs when you’re confronted, on your own, with a booklet of passages that masquerades as meaningful, enjoyable reading. (In your mind, you’ll try to reconcile why such a fun activity has to be hijacked and turned into such an arduous one.)

I know I’ll probably see your faces turn various shades of green. Your lips might utter statements such as, “This is too hard,” or “I’m not going to do this.” You might say you’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re bored, you’re hot – anything to get yourself out of the unenviable position of having your status as English Language Learners with disabilities be used against you in a poorly-conceived plan to make you “proficient.”

You don’t need a test to tell you if you’re “proficient.” Are you doing your work every day? Hey, you’re proficient! Are you prepared and ready to try every day? Guess what? You’re proficient! Do you give your best effort all, or even just most of the time? Well then, you’re proficient!

Some of you asked me if this test is important. That all depends on what your priorities and values are. If you, like me, value a positive, can-do attitude and realize that you’ve improved in all subjects, then you already know what’s important. It’s like I’ve told you and your parents many times before: it matters that you are improving. No test score will give us the full picture of your growth or abilities.

This morning, you’ll find some items on your desk that I hope help you through day one of The Test. Of course, there will be a pencil (duh, how else can you bubble?). I’ll leave a highlighter, as well, since I know that helps a little when reading those big bad passage article stories. And I’ll leave a Rice Krispies Treat with a little note attached, because I promised you a snack and everyone is probably going to need a pick-me-up this morning.

Listen when I talk. You’ll probably find that I won’t say, “Good luck” nearly as much as I’ll say, “Do your best!”

Yesterday, with the realization that the desks would stay in rows overnight and you would enter this morning into what was once your classroom (now a test room), you stared straight into the terrifying eyes of The Test, trembling in fear as it scowled at you from a hundred feet high. Many of you wondered if it would swallow you whole and destroy you.

Do not be distressed, dear students. You can slay that scary monster just by doing what I’ve been stressing all year: your very best.

What Does a Know-it-All Know, Anyway?


I’ve heard people suggest that, since I’m a special education teacher, I am also a saint. People have told me, “Those kids need someone like you,” and, “They need a good male role model.”

Of course, none of these people are political types or billionaires. The way these influencers see it, I’m exactly the kind of teacher my kids don’t need because I don’t add enough value. Full disclosure: I typed that sentence with a smirk on my face.

Instead of honoring my commitment to teaching a high-needs cohort (or the commitment of others who teach special ed, ESL, or in high poverty areas), the know-it-alls use the choice I’ve made to label me a poor teacher. It is both upsetting and laughably idiotic that they have perversely twisted the notion of good teaching so that the teachers who take on the hardest assignments are made to look like the worst teachers.

Which shows you just how little these know-it-alls know.

A Call to Action: Spread the Word About “Value”


My colleague Donna and I exchanged a volley of texts this weekend trying to figure out the next steps that could follow her post I dare you to measure the “value” I add, which, I guess you could say, has gone certifiably viral. That is to say, if you haven’t read it, read it now. Close to 10,000 people did this weekend.

As Donna considers the best ways to seize on the popularity of this inspiring and timely post by spreading it further, I ask that you do your part to spread it. The more people who read it, the better.

Donna has articulated a stand that teaching and results can’t be crunched into numbers. If you agree, please retweet, post to Facebook, e-mail to colleagues and administrators, and share on Google Plus. This message needs to be shared if we want to take back our profession!

Just for good measure, here’s the link again! Share it with everyone! I dare you to measure the “value” I add.

Dialogue on Data


This is part of a series of letters I am exchanging with a colleague of mine on a variety of education-related issues. It originally appeared on her blog, No Sleep ’til Summer. I will post my response on Tuesday, March 20.

Dear Matt,

cc: all passionate and concerned teachers

Recently I wrote a post, a poem of sorts, about the value-added teacher data reports. I was expressing my frustration with the fact that the positives and challenges of my job as a teacher of ELLs, (most of whom are newcomers or SIFE students) are not simply ignored by this data but blatantly devalued. By the overwhelming response I received from colleagues and strangers alike, including current and retired teachers and principals, I know I’m not alone in how I feel.

As we discussed this and our experiences with teaching test prep units, you said that the issue, as you see it, is that data is bastardized. I would like to dig into this a little more, not just because teachers rarely get the time and opportunity to really discuss and analyze the issues within our profession in depth, but also because this is an area that is heavily covered in the media with, unfortunately, a wealth of misinformation and leading to a misinformed public who has even less time and less tools for critically analyzing the questions to any meaningful extent.

The public needs to understand that teachers aren’t simply lamenting changes to their job, or an increase in responsibilities and work load without a corresponding pay increase. We aren’t simply complaining about “doing more paper work”, or opposing what some see as the “professionalization” of the teaching “trade”.

So, let’s take time to provide a means for analyzing and discussing these issues that publicly encourages the “higher order” thinking it so desperately requires.

I’m going to address some of the most common public questions and concerns in upcoming posts, and I’d like to invite you to do the same. And, you know what? I’d like to open it up and invite other teachers to also contribute a post or suggestion on common misconceptions they feel need addressing.

The Top 10 Things You’ll Hear in a Special Ed Class During Test Prep


10. I don’t know what to do.

9. I don’t get it.

8. This is too hard.

7. This is boring.

6. I can’t do this.

5. This isn’t real reading or writing.

4. Can we read books?

3. Why don’t we write anymore?

2. Why do we have to do this?

1. I’m having a terrible day.

To which the special educator can really only say, “Do your best.”