Saturday, March 30, 2019

POST #30- Just before the state tests

It's the last Saturday of spring vacation. I have spent pretty much the entire day reading sixth grade essays. The kids had to read three different articles on the same topic, and then write an essay which they basically synthesized and compared the the three articles. I have seventy of them to read. My original plan was to read ten each day, but then I got stomach flu, and missed several days. Today I read about 25. I still have at least 30 more to go.

The essays aren't bad. Most of them really are not. We've been writing essays all year. The kids have gotten increasingly better, or at least I think they have.

And yet, as I read, I constantly have this image in my head of young children dressed up in their parents' clothes. You know, like when a toddler puts on her mom's high heels and traipses around the bedroom. Or when a first grade puts on his dad's sports jacket for a school costume. They're little kids, dressed up in big people clothing.

That's what I feel like when I read my students' essays. They feel like little kids, trying to talk in big kid voices. They're doing it, kind of, but there are still lots of approximations. They use language like, according to the text or the text states, or as readers can clearly see, but they don't use the language exactly right. They say things like, "On paragraph 4" instead of "in paragraph 4."  They cite evidence, and then explain it in exactly the same words. Or they cite the perfect evidence and forget to explain it. Or they gum up the quotation marks. Today, one of my pretty strong writers used colons, instead of commas, to offset quotations. And I have no idea where that came from.

Usually, I'm a teacher who can honor and celebrate approximations. I delight in kids' mistakes, because that shows me they are noticing things and trying them, and growing.  But we are six instructional days from our state's test, and I'm having trouble celebrating their approximations and their errors. All I can think about is who will be proficient. And what I should do about the kids who are usually pretty good writers, but didn't write well on this particular assignment. And what will make the biggest difference for the next five days. And whether my students can write fast enough to read three articles and write an essay in one session.

I'm not feeling like a very good writing teacher tonight. And I keep thinking about those little kids, dressed in big kids' clothes.


Ramona said...

Oh, Carol, the world of state tests is an impossible situation. I remember how it feels to have your plans messed up by life and have 30 essays to read on the last day of break. Affirm, nudge, and encourage your little kids dressed in big kids' clothes. They'll be looking to you for help in filling out those clothes.

Tamara said...

I admire that you’re being so intentional about what will make the biggest difference for these next 5 days. And I love your image. They *are* little kids in so many ways.

For my students, I’m thinking of a quote from another slice I read tonight, “Commenting helps me recognize the wide variety of ways to be excellent.” (Sadly, I can’t recall whose post, but fortunately it’s still on my clipboard.) I’m trying to breathe deep and celebrate the ways their writing is excellent. It’s inevitable that the panic will hit at some point during the next two weeks, but I’m trying hard to let it go.

One more note: There was no link to this post in your SOL comment on today’s TWT call for slices.