Monday, March 26, 2012

Eat it and Like it

My 12 year old son is a picky eater.  He began that way in the womb, as I craved salty potato chips and chocolate while I was pregnant.  Today, with coaxing, he will try almost anything, but he is still very hesitant when he is presented with something unfamiliar.  If I try to sneak a green "unknown" into his dinner, however, he shuts down and refuses, wary and suspicious of any other hidden agendas I may have included in the meatloaf.
When I was a child, my father's response to my dinner complaint was always, "Eat it and like it."  A bowl of cereal was not an option.  If I did not like it, I did not eat.  I am most likely a bad mom, but sometimes I do give in.  My son will live if he eats a bowl of cereal for dinner instead of my beef pot pie, but I just don't understand his logic.  He likes beef and he likes pie.  Why not together with some other things in a lovely casserole?  He explains it like this, "Mom, you always take something awesome and mess it up with vegetables."

Last Friday, we concluded two weeks of PSSA testing.  PSSA stands for Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, which is our annual standards-aligned test that is administered in the spring for students in grades 3-8 and grade 11.  (If you are really interested in learning more about the test itself, click here. )  Nationwide, states have a test like this that is aligned to core standards, and it is used to determine student, teacher, and school proficiency in the areas of reading, math, science, and writing.   Proficiency is tied to many things, including funding, and most recently, it is now being used to determine teacher ratings.   As we were trained to administer the assessment this year, we were given much more strict guidelines and had to sign a paper attesting that we would adhere to all of the rules of test administration.  I'm sure that this extra measure was due to the fact that there have been nationwide reports of teachers and schools caught "cheating" and changing answers on student assessments.

Now, I am a fan of assessment.  I check student progress daily and use it to inform my instruction.  I monitor student data, and even enjoy analyzing it to determine what my students need so that I can tailor my lessons to meet student goals.  Every time I do a running record, have a student conference, or do any progress monitoring, I have students' needs in mind.  My goal is to grow readers.  I want to model healthy reading habits and feed them strengthening strategies that foster their metacognition, their "thinking about thinking" while reading.  Ultimately, however, I want my students to be successful and I want to nourish their love for books and reading.  My continual assessment and instructional response is my "food" that helps my readers grow, and I feed them every day.   And it is delicious.

The Friday before we began our PSSA testing, we had a "PSSA Pep Rally," and it was a fun, well planned event.  Students sang songs and did a PSSA rap, we had special guests from a local football team speak about "doing your best on the test," and we even had their mascot do a cheer and dance for the students.  Students were excited and prepared and ready to "show what they know" the following week.
When the day arrived to begin the reading portion of the test, I read all of the directions verbatim to my small group of readers.  I followed all of the protocols, and I smiled with encouragement as they eagerly began their work.  I observed their hard work, highlighting words and using their scrap paper to map out PLORE, which their classroom teachers had diligently taught prior to taking the PSSAs.  But as the minutes, hours, and days went by, the students in my small group, most of whom I know personally as readers, began to wilt and lose their stamina.

By the last testing day, one of my students proclaimed, "I hate reading."
I didn't respond.  How could I argue?  I witnessed it firsthand.  They took something awesome and messed it up with vegetables.  But for now, we have to eat it and like it.

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