A “Forgotten” Best Practice – Making A Difference In Students’ Lives

Before about 8 years ago some of us recognized that a student raised in poverty (both of money and/or spirit) or in an environment of fear and upheaval was probably just not going to be focused on school, and would very often be a negative, distracted, distractive member of the classroom. I was lucky enough to teach at a school that had an underlying theme of dealing with these kids in a way that would hopefully lead them to realize it was their situation – not themselves that was bad, and realizing the rest of us were not like the people that had “messed them up“ we were not the ones to take it out on. (“We” being students and staff.)

Teachers and administrtors saw that they got counseling of one form or another, made sure they knew the rules and norms of behavior AND we took the time in our classrooms to have class meetings and teach lessons on how to treat one another and discuss issues and point out why some kids acted the way they did and role played how to deal with different situations etc. We had some major successes  – note these successes were not about test scores directly (but indirectly to the max), they were about changing peoples lives for the better. The time we took to do this was even partially “made-up” because overall student behavior was better, so there was less class time taken up by disruptions – it was more than worth it – and you felt like you were really helping to make a difference.

Many of our most troubled students were now able to focus enough to begin to learn the academics they had missed while they were beating themselves up inside (and some of us on the outside). Realize the really, really troubled students had missed (and still do) not just most of the curriculum (since preschool) that they were supposed to be learning, but also how to do school at all. They were much more ready to learn these things now, but it takes a long time to retrieve 5 or 6 or more years of school you missed – missed because you were there in class in body, but not in mind or spirit. That’s a ton to catch-up on. Not just the reading, writing and math, but the when to sharpen your pencil, and how to borrow something, or be a member of a group, etc. etc. etc. (One of the rubs with NCLB is that these kids that are just now able “to do school” – their test scores are taken as a failure because they are not at grade level – they don’t look at improvement, if they grow at least a year in a year that should be adequate growth – I feel schools that turn these kids around should be given an award not basically reprimanded for helping kids and families)

One of the pieces of fallout from the testing craze has been the time to do this kind of work with children. And because its not a focus, many teachers now have little experience working with kids in this way – “the non-conformist students just screw up the test scores” that’s how they are seen too often because we don’t have the time or resources to deal with them positively. It just takes too much time.

Remember this?:

All I Really Need To Know I learned In Kindergarten – Robert Fulghum 1986

Share everything.
Play Fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life-learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon …

Do they still have time to teach this in kindergarten?

Doug Noon over at Borderland writes:

When we looked at the test scores of our students, I noticed that all of my below-proficient-scoring students had histories of domestic abuse. I raised my hand and asked, “Will the administration allow us to include Domestic Abuse as a demographic category?” because it seemed like a significant variable. The whole staff was silent. My principal waited a moment for the question to sink in and diplomatically replied, “No.” The meeting continued.

How many of us are “using data to drive instruction” these days? I see some hands up out there. I propose we add some categories to the data so that we get a truer picture of ALL the remediation we might need to apply: Poverty level, parents’ educational level, home situation(s), number of times a student has moved during their school career, nutrition, health – you get the idea.

Stephanie at Change Agency chimed in on Doug’s post with this:

If we are to achieve the stated goal of leaving no child behind, then the effort has to become a community-wide goal that involves everyone – and simply analyzing test scores to death is not the solution.

I am optimistic overall that we might be starting to see the light and realize that relying so much on testing, and therefore reading and math only instruction might not be the way to make a difference for our students. My current principal seems to really, really get this – this is one of the reasons I am so looking forward to this, my 26th year teaching.

Doug supports my optimism by pointing us to an article in the New York Times – It Takes More Than Schools to Close Achievement Gap – By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO, Published: August 9, 2006

Check it out – it brings hope!
Learning is messy!

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3 thoughts on “A “Forgotten” Best Practice – Making A Difference In Students’ Lives

  1. Yeah. I’ve been “off” all day because the newspaper this morning reported that my school is failing to meet AYP. You say, One of the pieces of fallout from the testing craze has been the time to do this kind of work.. its not a focus, many teachers now have little experience. To that I would add that it’s not even part of the public discourse now, except in school hallways where teachers have all their informal meetings. It’s a difficult subject for teachers to discuss publicly because it looks like blaming or excuse-making. But without even acknowledging the human dimension of our role, we’re in danger of falling into a technocratic trap, which will do nobody any good. We need to talk back. Way to go, Brian.