Thursday, June 21, 2001

What Students Remember

Several years ago, a former student came to me during Back to School night. He asked if I remembered him. This young bearded adult resembled no twelve-year-old I had taught and I asked his name. This I did remember. That night he told me that he'll always remember my class. Since he had failed my class in spite of all the strategies I tried, I was flabbergasted to hear this.

Out of curiosity, I asked him what it was that he remembered about my class. He said it was the hero/monster book project assigned in my 7th grade class. He told me he still had the bound copy of his group's book and that it was one thing that he really enjoyed in middle school.

That year I had divided each class into groups of four. Each group was responsible for working together to create a book which would have an original hero story that included a monster. Students were given instructions to include specific elements in their story after we had finished reading "Beowulf." Besides the illustrations and main story, other elements included book jacket information, table of contents, and an interview with the monster's mother.

This project, truly an activity which reflected the critical thinking that MSPAP is supposed to encourage, had captured this former student's imagination. I'm sorry to say that I no longer have time in the curriculum to include this project. It takes too long and I would not have time to do the required unit assessments and writing prompt practice for their writing folders. And I certainly wouldn't have the time to grade all that and manage to get the student books assembled. Besides, my copy allotment would probably run out with so many book copies for the students.

Albert Einstein said that "imagination is more important than knowledge" but those who power the educational system policy must not have discovered this yet. Could it be they lack the imagination to envision what the education of our children could be?

The buzz word these days is "assessment" and this word is now in bold print with Bush's leadership. Awakened policy makers realize that our students are not prepared with the necessary skills for successful living in the real world. The answer is to test, analyze and then re-test ad infinitum. The thinking is that if we hammer away enough at assessment hard enough, then students' test scores will go up and their education will have been successful.

And it isn't limited to test, analyze and retest. Between the tests, students are taught the language of the test and the best strategies to do well in the test. During this time they take multiple practice tests. All in the name of good education.

The tests rely heavily on "real-life" situations and the skills needed to cope with them. Don't get me wrong. This type of activity has many merits. However, things are so weighted toward this kind of thinking that we have left out time for kid things, the kind of things that encourage and reward the growth of imagination.

Have you ever wondered why Harry Potter has been so successful? Kids hunger for what is missing in a diet lacking imagination.

Harry Potter fills a void in children's lives that has been fostered by our culture and educational system. Our media culture leaves nothing to the imagination. They are entertained rather than becoming the entertainers. Our way of doing things in the world today provides instant feedback. Kids are used to instant gratification. They are not prepared to accept that education doesn't necessarily provide instant feedback. It can be a long and difficult process. If we can't give them instant feedback because of the nature of the learning process couldn't we at least provide an environment which fosters imagination. Using the imagination is fun.

More students than ever are dropping out of school. We complain about the lack of student motivation. I'm with the students. I understand because I wouldn't be motivated by the hope of increasing MSPAP scores. After all, students do not see the results of their test and it has no impact on grades and anything else they see as relevant.

For sure, test scores are going up. We are successfully preparing our students to understand the language of the test and to be good test takers. But will this prove that we are giving our children a good education?

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