By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – My summer is over. It’s back to school for me tomorrow to begin year twenty-four. Or is it twenty-three? I can’t remember.
I want to take a moment today to thank the readers of this blog for their donations to my new classroom library; so many of you hit that Amazon Wish List and sent a book to us, or reached out to me for an address so you could send your own gently used books. I am so grateful for all of that, really.
On my own blog I posted some photos of my classroom and thanked readers of my blog for their donations, and if you’re interested, you can check that out. I want everyone who sent a book to see where it ended up. Not all of the books are loaded on the shelves in these pictures, but most are. You might notice that the non-fiction shelf is pretty empty and I’ve purchased about thirty books on my own to help fill in some of that, and I’ve updated my Wish List with some non-fiction.
I have two more shelves we can grow into, so I’m still collecting!
It’s no secret how I feel about the new Louisiana curriculum and specifically scripted lessons with pre-canned slides which are mandatory. I hate them. They are soul crushing for both students and teachers and they strip all creativity and fun from learning. I do my dead level best to get around it and to give my students what they need and I pray every day that I don’t get in trouble for deviating from the endless stream of speeches and dry articles we are required to put in front of kids, along with highlighters of multiple colors for the many annotation exercises.
Louisiana may be recognizing the fault in this overreaching Guidebook curriculum, however. I may be assuming too much, but Louisiana was recently given permission to try out a new series of tests that are more relevant to what students are learning in the classroom as opposed to the standardized multiple choice tests we have now:
Louisiana is applying to build a LEAP 7 format, covering both ELA and social studies, that measures student understanding of pre-identified knowledge and texts from their daily classroom experiences, rather than the usual random assortment of texts. The format is intended to make assessments more relevant and connected to the classroom, while still providing valid and transparent data on student growth. External partners will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot.
These new tests will help measure background knowledge, which I know from experience many of my students need some help with. Students in poor schools from economically challenged backgrounds with parents who don’t have books in the home or don’t read to them have a large gap in background knowledge as compared to more affluent students. That’s one reason why this classroom library project has been so important to me.
This statement from the Louisiana Department of Education seems to recognize that more work is needed on the current curriculum (emphasis mine):
Though improved dramatically in the past three years, the Louisiana Assessment of Education Progress (LEAP) continues to measure the ELA standards, including specific skills such as summarizing passages and locating main ideas, but it does not go above that to measure whether students have developed a base of knowledge. Consequently, in many schools a focus on discrete reading skills predominates the English classroom, with minimal attention paid to knowledge. Building assessments in a new way—bringing ELA and social studies standards, curriculum, and assessments into full alignment— would make the academic systems more meaningful. and reinforce the same vision for student learning.
It seems to me, what this statement says, is that we are spending a lot of time identifying main ideas with kids in dry texts and annotating with little effort to make use of that information. We are teaching skills, but not knowledge.
That’s what rebels like me have been saying from day one.
That’s why I want my students reading books. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, all of it.
Anyway, we will see what comes of all that curriculum business as it rolls on out, but in the meantime, what I really wanted to do here was to thank you good people who sent books for caring about kids and for caring about literacy. You warm my heart!