Where's My Evidence?One of the biggest struggles I face as a teacher is balancing the needs of my students with the demands of THE TEST. Obviously, my first priority is THE STUDENT. Every single human being is a valued and celebrated member of the classroom community.
I have concerns about the recent “school reform” that I see happening in schools. I am concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum and about sacrificing weeks of actual literacy instruction for test practice. Recently I had a conversation with an administrator in which I advocated that our school adopt the NWP model of professional development, arguing that our model can and does lead to higher student achievement. He was doubtful. He asked, "Where is your evidence?"
He doesn't know me. He doesn't know that I am a teacher researcher or what that means. What does it mean to be a teacher researcher? It means that everything that happens, everything that we say, every move that we make, every question we ask, every assignment we give and grade---is DATA. It means is that I am constantly in a questioning mode regarding curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Because of this, I have collected artifacts of mine and my students' strengths, weaknesses, achievements and failures from every year of my career, going back to my first year, 1994. I have studied, in a systematic way, the following topics: portfolio assessment, multi-genre writing, writing across the curriculum, writing to learn, reflective writing, classroom community-building, autism spectrum, place-based/experiential learning, environmental education in ELA, embedding wellness activities/instruction in ELA, and gender and voice in student writing. I have written countless papers on these topics, and some of what I've written has been published in respected professional journals, in print and online.
He doesn't know that I invite everyone: the Superintendent, colleagues, parents, pre-service teachers, college instructors and their students, LEP workshop participants, NWP workshop participants, NCTE members....anyone and everyone...to see the evidence of the high quality, rigorous education that my students receive in my classroom that empowers them to become capable, confident, and contributing citizens of a 21st century global society. He doesn't know the dozens and dozens of stories that students and former students tell about how they never imagined that they'd ______ [fill in the blank with a literacy accomplishment of your choice], but Ms. Eddy empowered them and mentored them, and they achieved the goal. I only wish that I could get him and others truly interested in seeing the learning and growth that I see in my students' thinking, reading, writing, speaking, listening, and researching. I know this is true for so many teachers, yet it will never translate to test scores, for any number of reasons.
Where's my evidence?
A few weeks ago, I ran into a parent of a former student, Tony (Class of 2004). Rob, his dad, put his arm around me and said, "You know, Tony is in Hollywood now, working in the film industry, making more money than us, and it's all because of you."
Of course it isn't all because of me, but I did play a role in Tony's success. When Tony arrived in my classroom his junior year, his parents, his counselors, and his Special Education teacher knew that if Tony was going to pass American Literature, he'd need a lot of help. And from me, he got it. I did some research and discovered that Tony, who said he was a non-reader and a non-writer, was a state-champion bowler who read a bowling magazine, and that he designed record-breaking sound systems to compete in car-stereo volume contests, which required him to read technical texts. I used what I learned about the genres and structures he was familiar with in the reading he chose to do to help him find ways to be successful with reading and writing assignments. And he did succeed. It was a struggle, but I always say of life's less pleasant experiences, "Liking it is optional."
At his spring IEP meeting, the education team met to discuss Tony's options for English in his senior year. At this point, most students who struggle with English Language Arts prefer to opt out, if they've met credit requirements, or take a less rigorous elective. Tony, concerned that his weak writing skills could hinder his post-secondary educational options, made an amazing decision. He told the team that he wanted to do an independent study in writing with me, so that he could work on his area of weakness. He knew that it would be difficult, and that he wouldn't enjoy it, but he knew that he needed to get stronger as a writer. At the end of his senior year, we knew that he had come a very long way. We also knew that he'd need to keep working on it. And he did.
Tony showed up in my classroom last spring, just before he moved to California for his new job. He wanted to be able to thank me in person. He had exciting news. He had just published an article in HDRI 3D, a professional journal for 3D artists and animators, and the publisher was so impressed with his work that she had contacted him to ask him to submit more articles. And to be honest, I don’t know if this successful and published professional could pass the TEST today, but I do know that it doesn’t matter. He’s successful in his field; that’s what matters.
"Where's my evidence?"
My evidence is in my classroom, on the walls, displayed with Maple pride. My evidence is in the crate at the front of the room that holds the writing projects from former students--for current students to consult for ideas and examples. My evidence is in my students, in their writing projects, in their portfolios, in their facebook pages, in their book purchases, in the data I've collected, in the presentations I give, in the articles I publish, in youtube videos, in blogs, in college acceptance letters, and later degrees, in published poems, articles, websites, books, cds, and in the stories that students and parents tell about the insights, the growth, the achievements, and the opportunities that arise out of the work I do with students in English Language Arts.
My evidence is in the ways that students are empowered as readers and writers, throughout their lives, whether or not they pass the TEST. The truth is that whether or not they pass the test, my students will go on learning and working, and what they learn in my classroom is valuable in real ways for their real lives. That's real transformation, and that's something that should be cultivated by all who are involved with school reform.