Report from Louisiana: Thanks for the Books!

Readability

Report from Louisiana: Thanks for the Books!

By: Pat Austin

[cap­tion id=“attachment_108304” align=“alignleft” width=“300”] My classroom[/caption]

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.

Amen, brother.

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!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreve­port. She is the author of Cane River Bohemia due out in Octo­ber from LSU Press. Fol­low her on Insta­gram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

My classroom

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.

Amen, brother.

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!

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  She is the author of Cane River Bohemia due out in October from LSU Press.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.