T.E.S.T.ing Week

standardized testing funnyAs an educator, the Spring semester can become difficult and instructional time becomes precious and limited. My ELL students have to take the district, state, and national tests, along with language acquisition tests. These required tests seem to dictate our schedules and energies during the spring semester. I find myself planning quick, self-standing lessons that can be implemented at any time because only the Lord Himself knows how much time I’ll ACTUALLY have.

Testing is part of our educational system – like it or not. So here’s what I tell my kids about standardized testing. I hope it helps you and our students gain some perspective and maybe find hope in the midst of the craziness.

Taking a test isn’t the goal here. It really isn’t. Yes the scores matter. Yes I will hear about it if my students don’t do well – but I’m not here to make sure they do well on the test. I’m here to help them learn the skills it takes to prioritize information, manage their anxiety and apply what they know. Each of those skills will help them in life and that’s what matters.

Every job requires you to pass a test. It’s not fun to admit – but it’s true. If I want to work on your car, replace your roof, or repair your broken limb – I have to pass a test. It might not be a multiple-choice test, but I will be trained and I will have to show someone else that I can apply my skills in a manner that is not only acceptable, but perhaps exceptional.

Scores don’t define you. I tell my students they are more than a number – they should never let scores define or limit them. Now, at the exact same time, I work to help them use numbers to evaluate their growth. Have you ever watched a student chart their progress and smile at the upward movement? It’s awesome! Some students consistently score high and if that score drops they begin to panic. This is where the emphasis and importance of grades and scores (see ABCs of Grades post) should be put into perspective . Kids need to have permission to be kids and to be unique in their learning and their performance. Tests don’t provide those opportunities, but we can remind students that there’s more to life than the test and the score it produces.

Talk to me. Typically I run a controlled, fast-paced classroom and my students know I have an agenda that takes priority over their social needs. However, during testing week things begin to relax a bit. I ask my students to talk to me. I ask about life outside of school. I want to know if anything is happening in their social or emotional world that might be weighing them down. I feed them, I let them go the bathroom…I am compassionate to their plight. My students with high anxiety levels let me know when they need a break and I trust them. I’ve never had a student try to “get out” of taking the test – they know this is happening – but I think they truly appreciate the understanding from the adults in their lives.

I’ll end with this well-known political cartoon:

testing cartoon

Many people use this illustration to undermine standardized testing and yes – it has a good point – but let’s be careful in our assumptions. Our students are failing. It kills me to even type that sentence – but it’s true (PEW Research).

Are the national/state/district tests truly representative of student ability? No.

Are they truly reflective of a teacher’s instructional abilities or classroom management? No.

But each time I’m tempted to complain, I ask myself what I have a BETTER way to assess ability throughout the country and I can’t think of anything.

So until I’m in a position to change things for the better I’ve decided to focus on making my classroom better and helping my students compete on the national stage.

No matter what test life might throw at my kids I want them to know how to use their gut, their knowledge, and their reasoning skills to make the best choice they can and pass that test.

I will ensure my students know their value. From there I hope they will become thirsty for knowledge because they feel confident in their abilities. For many of my students they don’t see education as valuable (see Welcome to America post) – I want to change that. I want them to revel so much in the learning process that they resist the temptation to reel against the testing.

Systems aren’t perfect – they are flawed and sometimes broken. The children in my classroom are broken and flawed and so am I. So before I shake my finger at the system, I’m going to take a hard look at my students and at myself to make sure we are growing and becoming better each day. That way we can face the test as a unified front, and when the test is done we just keep moving forward.

T.E.S.T.

Yep – it’s a four-letter word.

How we interpret this word is what matters and our kids need us to guide them along the way.

Happy testing!

Kasey

 

It’s Time

textSo it’s been a month. I find it ironic that I’m writing this post on April Fool’s because I’m reflecting on that one night when I felt like a fool, was treated like one, and have continued to struggle BECAUSE of some fools.

Here’s what happened…

It was March 1st and I went to the gym to run.

I put my bag in my locker, went up to the treadmill and about 10 minutes into my run I started to feel sick to my stomach. I almost stopped but decided to push ahead and scolded myself for eating before coming to workout.

IF I had stopped and gotten off the treadmill I would have looked out the large windows, down onto the parking lot, in time to see two men getting into my car and driving it away.

You guessed it – someone went into my locker and took my wallet and keys out of my bag. They passed keys to their buddies and stole my car, my identity, and my peace of mind.

The picture at the top of this post is the actual screen shot of my text to my husband – crazy.

So let’s get some perspective…

The PEOPLE in my life – the most important parts of my life – are safe and that’s what matters the most.

The POSESSIONS in my car were trashed, stolen and well – I’m not sure how glad I am that OnStar actually worked. I’m not sure I ever want to drive that car again – but here we are, trying to make the best of a really stinky situation.

Now for the application part…

It’s been a month and even though we recovered my car that evening, I still don’t have it back. The people who took it did so much damage it’s been a bit of a nightmare trying to talk with the repair shop, the assessor, and the insurance company. So I’ve learned how to appreciate the role others are playing in my crisis. I’ve learned to communicate without questioning and remind others how important they are to me and to the solution behind this problem.

I have been going to this gym for almost 3 years and I have never placed a lock on my locker – no one does. I trusted the system and people too much. You have to scan your card to get in so I just assumed no one in the locker room would have anything but good intentions and that I was safe. I guess that was foolish of me. I won’t be trusting anymore and I wish I could say our gym was doing more to let people know about this situation but I think they just want me and this whole thing to go away.

My children have been watching us this whole time. They watched us cancel our cards and deal with my identity being used to buy tons of medication (I’m assuming used to make drugs) at a pharmacy.

So I sit here and think about the people who did this. I call them fools not because they are worth less than me – we’re all equal in the eyes of God – but their actions show them to be people driven by actions that embody both the noun and verb forms of the word. They fooled me – they tricked and deceived me. They were fools to think they’d just be able to walk away with my car and my wallet.

Between OnStar and the police, their fun was cut short – but who has suffered the longest and the most? Me. Not them – me.

I guess that’s what happens when bad people do bad things – but I won’t let them win. It’s been a month and I’m still driving a rental as the repair place and State Farm work together to help me get back to “normal”.

I’ve started praying for these people and I’ve found comfort in the fact that God is responsible for evening the scores – not me – and it is clear these people have bigger issues and problems in their life than I do.

So I walk away remembering what is REALLY important – people and relationships. I let go of my anxiety and my desire for retribution every day – not sure when that will get easier but I have faith it will.

I hope your April Fool’s Day was calm and that you are living in a safe, secure world. We can each find things to complain about but really we should be focused on the things that matter most and be thankful for what we have.

For now I will be a bit more cautious when leaving my keys and wallet and I’ll listen to my gut (literally). I don’t want to live with a negative mindset or in fear – but my reality has been disrupted and my security has been broken. It could have been so much worse and I’m thankful it wasn’t – but even at this small level of inconvenience and frustration – I’ve gained a new appreciation for what it means to live in a world where selfishness causes pain and it makes me sad.

Let’s make this world a better place. Let’s meet everyone with a smile and a handshake and think the best of them. That way the fools that stole my car and my wallet don’t win. We aren’t going to be fooled into thinking they are the majority and I will continue to hug my kids and count my blessings every single day.

Stay safe. Stay strong.

Kasey

Welcome to America (when cultures and classrooms collide)

United Earth

As an ELL teacher I encounter students from all over the world. I love it. It keeps me from living in my own little “USA” bubble. I’m forced to remember that I’m a global citizen and I have a responsibility beyond my own zip code!

But I digress…

This is not a political post. I’m not aiming to discuss anything that has to do with immigration, foreign aid, or any other politically-driven hot topic. At this point, I can’t do much about those issues so I’m focused on my current reality: a classroom filled with various religions, skin colors, languages and immigration statuses.

And ya know what’s really great? NONE of those things matter to me…

These are MY kids, MY students and it’s MY job to ensure they are prepared to make this world better – regardless of where they are from or where they are going. So what spurred this random post? I’ll tell you…

A new student came to our school 2 days before Spring Break. His family had arrived in the US from the Dominican Republic on a Tuesday and Thursday they were in the front office signing their children up for school. There was some discrepancy because they claimed their son had finished 9th grade in their home country. However, his birth certificate places him in 8th grade here in the states.

They were a bit upset he couldn’t begin his education at the high school level but they understood and we assured them that the next 9 weeks would be a great time of language acquisition and preparation for high school.

So Carlos (that’s not his real name) enrolled as an 8th grader at our school and for the 2 days before Spring Break we were careful to pair him with a student that would make sure he felt safe, secure, and informed.

Upon returning from Spring Break, Carlos showed how incredibly intelligent and capable he truly was. His cursive is the most beautiful penmanship you’ve EVER seen. I could sense his frustration with not knowing the language but being familiar with the content – he’s had all this before! I was watching him closely.

By Friday of the first full week back it was clear the “honeymoon” period had worn off. Most students go through the same phases when it comes to accepting and adjusting to their new life in the US. However, the speed and severity of each phase can differ.

Suddenly, Carlos was going behind my desk, sitting in my chair, touching things on my desk, writing on the board, talking while I was talking, repeatedly chewing gum in class, etc…

After using Google Translate, asking other students to translate the expectations, being compassionate and kind in my reminders – I’d had enough.

We went to our amazing school interpreter and had a little chat. First I asked, “Carlos, how are you feeling here at school? Do you feel like you know what is expected of you and how everything works?”

The interpreter communicated his response: “I just feel like I’ve lost a lot of my freedom.”

Without even thinking I quipped, “Welcome to America”. The interpreter giggled and I realized I was being a bit snarky and trying to be funny but my statement had some dark truth to it.

I realized I had never asked him what school was like where HE came from. We do that at the beginning of the year to help students understand behaviors and expectations – but the kids who come the last quarter of school – well, it’s easy to forget that their “new” is just as real as our “old” and we have to meet in the middle.

Here’s the thing. I’m not apologizing for, nor softening the expectations and rules in my classroom. However, I needed this reminder that even though my year is ending, his is just beginning – in this new land with this new language and new these new surroundings.

Compassion is not my greatest strength, I’m a type-A, task-oriented person…

But my students continually challenge my heart and my spirit to remember that their culture is rich, alive, and precious to them. As I develop their language skills and help them navigate their new reality I need to also appreciate and recognize what they bring to my room.

So if you know someone from another country. If your neighbor believes something different – reach out, listen, and discover. This isn’t about agreeing or conceding – this is about recognition and appreciation.

The stories I hear from students truly rock my world. They face a reality and uncertainty I’ve never known. I guess that’s why I’m so committed to ALWAYS being a safe, solid place where they can land. My classroom will provide structure, consistency, and encouragement – it has to – no options here. I’m tough, but it’s because I believe in them, not because I don’t care and they know that to be true (at least I hope they do!)

Update on Carlos…

We’re calling home tomorrow because he’s starting to bother some girls and he keeps breaking rules he clearly understands are in place. Does this mean he’s a bad kid or a difficult case?

Nope.

He’s just a kid. No matter where they came from or are going – they are mine right now and I will do everything in my power to show them they are worth the effort and investment.

Carlos – get ready. It’ll be tough at first, but nothing worth having comes easily. We’re in this together.

For everyone else reading this. Please be the compassion and kindness this world so desperately needs right now. Make your kindergarten teacher proud and teach others as you’d like to be treated, share what you have, and never fuss about being the first in line – we’re all on the same journey, just enjoy the person walking with you –

Kasey

What Race Are You Running?

tortoise wallpapers hd (3).jpgThe headlines seem to be littered with people and groups pointing fingers at each other for telling a truth, telling a lie, or not telling enough. So I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and air my own grievances with the phrase,

“Slow and steady wins the race”

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare. It’s a story I tell my children and my students in order to model the character traits of persistence, humility, and yes – hard work .

We’ve all known our share of “hares”. Those people at the office or play group that seem to effortlessly live life and are so “quick” with their wit, money, looks, or talents that they make everyone else feel like they’re poking along, struggling to make it.

We’ve also known our share of folks who act like a tortoise. They take their time and think before they speak. They see the big picture and are okay waiting for their reward.

Which one are you?

Both have fantastic traits and they have their downfalls.

So here’s my problem with this “tail” (haha, see what I did there? Homophones anyone!? No? Just me – the English nerd? Okay, moving on)…

The truth is – the hares of this world usually win the races. At least the short ones. They win because they are sometimes loud, pushy, and confident. But do they win every race?

No.

I’ve learned to appreciate the tortoise in my life – my husband. Do NOT for a single minute think that he is weak, slow, or clueless. He is my rock, my guide, and I am in awe of who he is as a man and father.

If you haven’t guessed already, I tend to be more like the Hare in this story. And I have to be very careful not to dismiss or overlook the tortoises in my life because they have figured something out that I am still pondering.

They know what race they are running.

I tend to run, all the time, with everything I do. I go all the way. If I’m not careful I won’t stop, look back, or even consider who I might be blowing past and leaving behind. As age as set in my “speed” has slowed and I am so very thankful.

I still love to be challenged, I love feeling the wind from the energy of a team working on a project or the way my intellectual muscles are stretched when I learn a new skill – I LOVE the race of “new”. But here’s the problem – It’s tough for me to feel like I’ve crossed the finish line.

I finish one race and I’m on to the next. I remember it had been a week since my second book had been published and we were driving in the car. I started talking about an idea I had for a center that would serve immigrant families and students while working with local school districts and Universities. He literally pulled the car over, put it in park and with love in his eyes but exhaustion in his voice he said, “I love you, but sometimes it is exhausting being married to you! When will enough be enough?”

He wasn’t scolding me. He was really asking…because he is a tortoise. He sees what really matters and what I’ve accomplished and he appreciates every minute of it. He supports me 100% but he is my compass and my guide when it comes to knowing what I should and shouldn’t put my energy toward.

You see, in my opinion, the “hares” in our society typically DO win the race (and that’s the real rub with this story line). They get the attention and influence decisions, but sometimes I wonder if they are running the RIGHT race.

I guess I’m just coming to a place where I not only appreciate, but I have started to look for the Tortoise on my team, the Tortoise of the group that will help everyone be steady – and MAYBE slow. But sometimes slow is okay.

Do we need to appreciate and think more like the Tortoise in this story, instead of always rewarding the Hares of this world? Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE a kid who wants to just jump in and pour their energy into every idea that comes into their mind. That kind of energy keeps the Tortoise from falling asleep and being left behind.

So can we agree that this story is great, but there might be a bigger lesson waiting for us within it’s plot line?

No matter how we run the race – fast or slow, consistent or scattered – we need to first ask, are we running the right race?

If we are – it becomes a little less important to emphasize who wins. It’s more about how we help each other finish.

So if you’re a hare and your child is a tortoise – slow down and soak in their wisdom and perspective – it’s quite refreshing.

If you’re a tortoise and you’re being driven to the edge of your sanity by a hare in your life – I would challenge you to let them energize you. They have a drive and imagination that will cause you to find color in even the most grey days.

We need each other. This race can be EXHAUSTING! Instead of comparing how the other is running the race, maybe we should just shout a word of encouragement or sit and listen to each other’s journey.

To the tortoises out there: Be patient with the hare in your life. They mean well and they need your still, constant presence to bring them back to earth when their heads are in the clouds. You need their energy and they need your calm.

To the hares out there: Take time to recognize and appreciate the tortoise in your world. They are not trying to hold you back or slow you down. You need their perspective and they need your energy.

Now let’s get out there and run the race the best way we know how. Keep your head up and keep going because if you’re raising the next generation, you’re already in the most important race of all – you’re shaping the future. I’m here for you and I appreciate you. Slow and steady might not win all the races, but maybe we can all start to ensure we are running the RIGHT race.

On your mark, get set….GO!

 

Turn That Frown Upside Down!

In case you needed an extra reason to smile today…

smarter moms

Happy Valentine’s Day to all you wonderful, hard-working, precious Moms!  To celebrate this awesome day of love I thought we’d enjoy some great thoughts from Jill Savage, creator and director of Hearts at Home.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember how and why to smile. But during the sleepless nights, sweatpants and no shower days, and chaotic afternoons – we have to make ourselves SMILE!

Here are Jill’s 10 Reasons to Smile – just in case your sweet kids weren’t reason enough 😮

Enjoy!

10 Reasons To Smile

1. Smiling makes you more attractive.

2. Smiling changes your mood.

3. Smiling is contagious.

4. Smiling relieves stress.

5. Smiling boosts your immune system.

6. Smiling lowers your blood pressure.

7. Smiling releases endorphins.

8. Smiling makes you look younger.

9. Smiling gives the appearance of success.

10. Smiling helps you stay positive.

Go smile at someone!

Kasey

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How do you spell love?

A thought about showing love…

smarter moms

th[9]Quick, think back to all the goofy, puppy-love feelings you experienced the first time you fell in “love”. Whether you were 5 or 15 we all know the fluttering feeling in our stomach that happened when that someone special brushed our hand or looked our way.

Love can change form as we age. It feels, sounds, looks and even impacts us differently.

Valentine’s Day has come and gone but I hope we never stop thinking about how to show love to the people in our life.

We can read books about types of Love Languages and we know what it feels like to be loved, but sometimes it can be difficult to show love to the people we’re around the most.

One day I was truly fed up with my toddler and called my mom in desperation. I remember saying, “Mom, I don’t even LIKE him right now – he’s driving…

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The ABCs of Grades

medalsThroughout my years of working with mothers, one topic continues to come up in conversations – when to pay and when not to pay children.

So here are my thoughts, take what works for you and trash the rest – but please know this is not a quick, nor is it an easy, answer.

Here’s the thing about money. It causes an item to have a defined value (or lack thereof). In 2008, Dan Ariely wrote the book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.  It’s a fascinating look at why we do what we do and how we make decisions. He talks about two forms of currency or value. The first is a social norm, where money isn’t the issue. Instead, it’s about relationships and the value or benefit our decision brings to our fellow man. The second is a market norm. This norm focuses on money and the fiscal results of a decision.

Quick example: A plate of cookies are in the office break room. Sign says, “help yourself”. People only took one cookie and the cookies lasted for a while so everyone had an opportunity to enjoy one. Another time a plate of cookies was labeled, “.25 each”. Guess what happened? People put in a dollar and took 4 cookies. The cookies were gone in a short time period and people took more cookies than they did before.

According to Ariely, here’s what happened. A market norm was assigned to an object and therefore the social  norm went away. No one thought about others, they just did the math. I put in a dollar, I get 4 cookies.

It makes sense doesn’t it? But here’s the thing. Ariely (and a bunch of really smart psych people) figured out that once a market norm is assigned, the social norm not only goes away, it can never return. He has so many examples about a daycare charging for watching kids late, lawyers helping the elderly with legal advice, and on it goes. It’s a fascinating book and I think it bears some weight with kids, grades, chores, and a household.

Is it wrong to pay kids for responsibilities or positive marks? I don’t think so.

Is it necessary? I don’t think so.

Before you get upset – hear me out.

Each of my children are unique. Their learning styles and abilities are very different. My oldest can work for 4 hours on math and still only earn a B. My middle child can do the same assignment in 1 hour and earn an A.

Did my middle child work harder? Nope. Is my oldest not giving his best? Nope.

So why would I assign a market norm to their learning and their abilities?

What if my kid has a teacher that is just one of those royal, pain in the rear end, jerks who never gives an A on a test or paper? What if my kid has a learning disability or the unit they are studying in school just doesn’t make sense to them? There are so many variables involved in the learning process and school objectives.

Carol Dweck writes and speaks about how important the PROCESS is and not just the PRODUCT of learning. (CLICK HERE to watch her Ted Talk) She did an experiment with groups of children who were given projects and puzzles to complete. One group was told they were “smart” when they finished and the other group was praised with the words, “you worked so hard” at completion.

Each group was then offered a more difficult puzzle or one at the same level. Wanna guess which group went up a level and invited more challenge?

Yep – the group that was focused on the process. The ones who were told they were smart really were smart kids. In fact, they figured that if this level of doing things constitutes “smart”, why should I push myself?

I’m not suggesting we lose “smart” from our vocabulary, but the minute I add market norms to grades and the learning process, I take away the social norm of enjoying the process of thinking, struggling with answers, and in the end having a result that reflects my efforts – no matter the grading scale being used.

As mothers we are tasked with creating global citizens. People who aren’t afraid to work hard. People who immerse themselves in the process and create a product that is an authentic reflection of our children’s thoughts, dreams, feelings, and abilities.

We can tackle the topic of chores another time. For now, start thinking about what events or tasks need to remain focused on process and social norms instead of focusing so much on the market. The “market” of this world can sometimes limit our kids or misrepresent them.

I truly believe our children are looking to US to provide a market that values them beyond their grades or scores. But instead, values what they bring to our family and our society.

So here’s your mneumonic device for the day concerning grades and performance in children:

Accept each child as unique and wonderful.

Be focused on the process more than the product.

Continue to encourage children to try, even if a “prize” or “medal” doesn’t come in the end.

I value you.

Thank you for caring about the little things and the big things.

You stay up late, wash clothes, clean floors, wipe away tears, and YOU are making this world better. Don’t limit your actions according to the market norm. Your value FAR exceeds such measurements. You and I have a social norm that will come to light as our children grow and treat others as we have treated them – with respect.

Thank you for sharing, liking, and commenting – Spring is coming – hang in there!

Kasey

 

 


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