Tag Archive | teacher

Missing: Creative Students

Being creative is part of being a child.  From the moment my kids could hold a crayon, my husband and I encouraged them to be original.  We did a lot of art projects incorporating different types of mediums to get our kids to realize that creativity comes in all shapes and sizes; it is not about fitting inside the box. Two of my four kids are much more creative than the other two.  They get that from my husband because he is an art teacher. He is the abstract thinker that is able to take ideas and make them into an art piece.  I, on the other hand, am not so creative.  I am a concrete thinker who likes to know the guidelines and fit inside the box.  But, I do value the importance of teaching kids how to express themselves creatively in and outside of the classroom.

When my daughter took her kindergarten screening test, they asked her to draw a person.  She drew the typical 5 year old drawing: a big head, rectangular body, stick arms and legs.  She was marked off because she did not include a neck or fingers on her drawing.  How many 5 years olds would consider drawing a neck?  I guess this was part of the new and improved “college and career ready” kindergarten tests.  I was a bit annoyed that she lost points over something that is not really developmentally appropriate at that age.  Little did I know that this would be the beginning of her journey through the more challenging and rigorous standards set upon her education.  These standards have inevitably decreased the time allowed for teachers and children to be creative in the classroom.

In My Classroom

Over the years, my students have become less creative.  I have noticed a big change in how my students approach specific activities and how uncreative many of them are.  I do not feel that this change has anything to do with the different students I teach each year, but more of what they are being taught.  More time is being spent on reading and math and less time is being spent on subjects that allow students to use their imaginations and be creative. Just the other day, my students finished their research for the periodic table element that they were assigned.  Many years ago, I required all of my students to create a “poem, song, or rap” that demonstrated their understanding of that specific element.  Some students were nervous about getting up in front of the class, but overall most students enjoyed this assignment.  They were able to express themselves in an original manner while showing their understanding of elements.

This year, I decided to allow the children a choice in either creating a model or being creative musically by singing a song or rap.  Out of 48 students, I only had 2 students that decided to take the music route with their assignment.  Although the model representation could be artistic, most students just ended up drawing an atom on a piece of paper without putting much thought into the creative side of this assignment.  Some of my students were able to use their imaginations by using beads, beans, stamps, and other items to show the protons, neutrons, and electrons. But, only a select few.  I was disappointed that my students were so standard in their presentations.  I do realize that some students are just not that artistic….that was me in school.  But, I also had teachers who helped me get past that creative block to become more innovative and less standard as I progressed through my educational career.  I am trying my best to inspire my students to break out of their comfort zone, but it seems to be more difficult each year.

When I give my students an assignment, I am very specific in what information must be included, but I allow them to present the information in various ways.  Some of my students want me to tell them exactly how to present it.  This number of students who wants to know the precise manner (graphic organizer, words to say, etc) has grown over the years.  Children are losing their ability to think for themselves and share information in a unique way.  When I walk down the hall in my building, I see projects hanging on the walls that look exactly alike.  I do not want my students’ projects to look exactly alike; they are all unique individuals, and they should be allowed to show their originality in the way their assignment is presented.

My Thoughts

I watch my students’ faces as I tell them be creative.  So many students cringe when I say this word.  Why is that?

I think that students are becoming so used to following their teacher’s directions that they have a hard time thinking for themselves when given the opportunity.  The Common Core Standards are requiring children to read higher level text and go beyond the literal level which can be a good thing, but it is also creating robotic children who spit back information.  Students are all expected to do the same thing when they get the text: read, annotate, answer questions with text evidence, and discuss their answers. Of course we need to teach children how to answer questions by restating and providing details to support their answers.  Unfortunately, this way of teaching leaves little room for the authentic artistic activities that could enhance the students’ learning process.

Perhaps teachers are becoming rote in their teaching methods because of the modules and the lack of time available to get all of the curriculum in by the testing deadline.  There is an abundance of information that must be covered, and the projects that require creativity consume a lot of time. Teachers are tossing these activities aside.  Therefore, students are not able to think outside of the box anymore; I fear that children are becoming more and more dependent on the teacher telling them how to do things that they cannot use their own imaginations.

I have spoken to many art teachers, including my husband, about this missing creative piece in students.  They all agree that over the past few years, students have become less original.  Some students are afraid to take a risk in art class because they don’t want to do it incorrectly.  They are waiting for the art teacher to tell them what colors to paint or what to draw.  It is sad that students do not have an imagination anymore.

Teachers are doing their best to foster creative minds; but if 50% of their evaluations are based on the state tests, how much longer will that continue?  I worry for all students across the United States as more emphasis is placed on standardized tests.  Our children are not standard.  They are all different in their own way and should be able to express themselves creatively.  What would our world look like if everyone was the same and there was no more music or art?  Our educational system is headed down this path, and it scares me to think about the lack of originality in the students that are being molded into college and career ready citizens.


I Am That Teacher

What do I want my students to remember about me?  Well, I know for certain that most of my students will remember me by one thing…that they were taller than their 6th grade teacher!  Think about how exciting it is for a child to walk into his classroom and be taller than his teacher.  I know that this has nothing to do with my teaching, but I also understand that my students will not really remember much about my teaching methods or if I helped them get a “3” or “4” on the state test.  But, they will remember that their 6th grade teacher was only 5 feet tall!

I hope that my students will remember me for other reasons as well. I know that they will remember that I cared about them and helped them realize their full potential.  Every year I work hard to try to help all of my students reach their goals.  I know that I have made that happen many times throughout my career. I am that teacher that requires my students to be honest, responsible, caring, and hardworking.  I ensure that my students work to the best of their ability by encouraging them to put in their full effort all of the time.

I am that teacher that cares about my students.  I learn what each student likes about school so they can feel successful at what they are doing.  I like to hear stories about their outside activities and lives; I make a connection with each and every child.  My students feel comfortable in my classroom because they can ask for help, and they know that I will be there.

I am that teacher that tries to be funny, but is not really very humorous.  Some students laugh at my jokes, but I think that is just because they feel bad for me!  Even though sometimes my classroom atmosphere is lighthearted, I still maintain control.  My students know when they can joke around and when we need to be serious.  I like my classroom this way.  These children are only in 6th grade…I want them to still like school!

I am that teacher that has high expectations for my students.  I challenge them and expect them to work hard every day.  I also realize that each child is different and has his/her own learning style.  I create lessons that enable all of my students to succeed in their own way.  I am that teacher that sees growth in each of my students.  I can tell you what skills they have mastered and which ones they still need to work on….even without a state test!

I Refuse

I refuse to be that teacher that does test prep all year long.  I will not subject my students to a learning atmosphere that only teaches them how to answer questions.  Students want to delve into a novel, but they do not want to have to answer twenty questions about each page.  Nor do they learn anything after they have shut down due to the repetitive nature of test prep.

I refuse to allow my students to become a test score.  Each child has his/her own strengths and weaknesses, and I do not need a standardized test to tell me that.  In fact, the state tests do not help me learn anything about my students. This is for three reasons: the passages are extremely challenging, the questions are poorly written, and the scores are not sent to me until the following September.  I also refuse to worry about my teacher score.  If I am rated a “2” because of the NYS test scores, then so be it.  I do my best helping students all year, and I hope for the best when they take the test.

I refuse to give up the lessons that I know work with my students so I can teach modules all day long.  My favorite units are the kids’ favorites too, and these are definitely not the modules!  Thank goodness I am only required to complete two modules this year!  I will adapt these modules to meet the needs of all of my students while keeping them engaged in the novels we are reading.

Most importantly, I refuse to give up this fight for my students and my own children.  I will not remain quiet about the detrimental impact that Governor Cuomo’s attack is having on our educational system.  I refuse to let him win!  I hope my students remember that I was that teacher that stood up for their future.

The Truth about New York State Testing

Well, I guess I should really say most of the truth about NYS testing.  Each year when I administer the state tests, I sign a waiver that is pretty much a gag order.  I am not allowed to talk about the actual test questions that were on that particular test.  I can talk about the test in general, but I am bound by some kind of secrecy to this test that I have administered.

The security for the state tests is crazy!  The tests are counted and recounted numerous times from the moment they arrive at our school until the moment the top secret vehicle takes them back to Albany.  They are even kept in a locked vault until they are graded.  I am not exactly sure what happens to all of the tests once the scores are in, but I am wondering if someone gets paid to stand and guard them forever and ever.

State testing in NYS has become a hot topic over the last few years.  I have had many parents ask me questions about the tests that are given to students in 3rd-8th grade.  I don’t think many parents are aware of exactly what these tests entail.  The following information is based on what I have seen over the last few years.

Preparing for the Tests

Students work hard all year in my reading class with analyzing challenging texts by close reading, annotating and discussing ideas with others.  Then they get the test, and it is timed.  There is not enough time for students to use the strategies being taught because they cannot possibly read a challenging passage three times, annotate it AND answer questions within the time limit.  I always tell my students to take their time and check their work…but when it really comes down to it, there isn’t time for this on the state tests.  This is very frustrating!

This year, the new ELA manual for the state tests says that the questions will be more complex and more advanced than on prior tests.  The questions will have four answers with only one correct answer.  That sounds okay, right?  But, it also states that the other answers will be “plausible but incorrect.”  So, basically most of the choices will look correct to an 11 year old!

Taking the Tests

Most teachers and students dread testing days.  I dread these days for various reasons.  Each testing day takes away 90 minutes of my actual teaching time.  For some special education students, they are losing even more classroom time because they have extended time which could be up to 180 minutes!

All students deal with testing differently.  I know that some of my students will be nervous while other students will just take the test without putting much thought into any of the questions.  This is concerning.  Many of my students dread the tests because they are expected to sit for extended periods of time without a break, unless they have to use the bathroom.  My students know they should put in their best effort and work diligently throughout the tests; but when sitting for 90 minutes or 180 minutes, how can anyone concentrate that long?  Some students are very anxious and freeze when they get the test.  They suddenly forget all of the strategies they have learned all year and become overwhelmed with the ambiguous questions being asked.

When students begin the test, I am allowed to put the beginning and ending time on the board so they know when time is up….according to the directions (which I MUST follow), I am allowed to state that there are ten minutes left.  There are other rules that I must also follow.  I am not allowed to clarify any words that are on the tests.  It breaks my heart when a student raises his/her hand and asks me what a word means for the essay question.  I feel a pit in my stomach knowing that the essay will not be answered correctly without knowing the meaning of that word!   But, I am not allowed to help my students.  I know what great writers they are, but the person grading those essays does not know the growth that my students have shown over the course of the year!

Grading the Tests

In my district, the tests are graded by other sixth grade teachers, but great care is taken so each teacher does not get any of his/her students.  This is to ensure a fair grading process.  I generally look around the room at teachers reading essays and try to put my fears to rest by telling myself that all of my students did their best and that is all I can ask for.  These tests will be graded and sent to Albany, and eventually be used for part of my teacher score.

After the Tests

When I went to college, I was taught that testing was supposed to help drive my instruction.  I will not be able to use these tests to drive my instruction because I will not get the test scores until the following year!  The following year when those students are no longer in my classroom.  I receive a score for each student, but that does not tell me what each child answered incorrectly or how I can help that student any further.  So what is the point?  Why am I giving a test that I cannot see afterward to determine what my students did well on or what they need help with?  Why am I being graded on something that my students tried their best on, but were tricked by questions that didn’t make sense?  The NYS tests are given to students every year from 3rd-8th grade; but why do we keep administering tests that don’t have any benefits to either the students or the teachers?