30 June 2014

Finally Harry!

We started reading Harry Potter!

I love the Harry Potter books.  I knew that I wanted to read them with Isaac some day, but I waited because I also knew that I did not want him to read them too early.  As Harry's character grows and matures, so do the themes in the books.  It is my personal opinion that the later books are not suited to elementary students, despite the fact that many have read them.  So, it was just last year that I began asking Isaac if he wanted to start reading the series.  The answer was a resolute "no."  Until last month!

Many of his classmates were reading Harry Potter this year and I had a feeling that he would jump on the bandwagon.  We have been doing family read-alouds of novels recently, and he decided our next one should be The Sorcerer's Stone.  I was elated.

Matt is reading the story out loud, with a wonderful British accent and voices for each of the characters.  We try to read a chapter a night - luckily we are flexible on bed time in the summer since some of the chapters are rather long.

We just read the chapter about the sorting hat.  It is one of my favorite chapters in the entire series and I was excited about reaching that point in the story.  Matt and Isaac both thought my enthusiasm was a bit odd as I bounced in anticipation of reading the chapter.

In "The Sorting Hat" chapter Harry, along with the reader, sees the interior of Hogwarts for the first time and meets most of the principal characters in the series.  Rowling's descriptions of the ceiling of the main hall, the ghosts, the food appearing on the plate are vivid illustrations of the magical world we have finally entered.  The reader shares Harry's amazement and his trepidation as he takes his turn with the Sorting Hat.  The Hat's monologue as he decides what house Harry will be in sets the stage for the conflicts that will carry the series through to its conclusion in book 7.  The glimpses we get of the professors -- McGonagall, Snape, Dumbledore -- introduce us to the characters that will shape Harry into the wizard he becomes.

We still have a lot to read of the first book, and then there are the other six to read after.  I am not sure that we will read all of them out loud, though I will re-read them as Isaac reads so we can experience Harry's adventures together.

I have been waiting to share these books with Isaac for almost nine years.  Now that the time is finally here, I am content to take it slow.  I am hoping Isaac will love these books as much as I do.

02 June 2014

We Have Come to The Age of Testing

Actually, the testing started in kindergarten, but the stakes weren't as high as they are in 3rd grade in North Carolina.  This year, parents of 3rd graders were told in August that if our children did not pass the test, then they would be able to promote to 4th grade, but as a transitional 3rd grader receiving remedial help.  Then in December, parents were told that if students did not pass the test, but had a complete portfolio which showed that they had mastered twelve standards, then they could promote to 4th grade with no strings attached.  Then parents were told in February that if students had received a certain score or higher on the beginning of the year "pre-EOG", then they did not have to have a portfolio.  Then in March, we heard through the grapevine that instead of looking at a portfolio or the "pre-EOG" score, teachers could use the quarterly assessments that they give each student to determine promotion to 4th grade if the student does not pass the EOG.

Needless to say, I was in Isaac's classroom one afternoon a couple of weeks ago asking what the deal was and what the steps would be if Isaac has a bad day and does not pass his tests this week.  His teacher looked at me with pity and pointed out that if I am confused, imagine what parents who don't work for the school system are feeling right now.

So this is what needs to happen for a 3rd grader to promote to 4th grade, free and clear.  First chance is to pass the reading EOG tomorrow.  If Isaac accomplishes that, then we are done.  If not, then the second chance is a different, supposedly easier test next week.  Ace that, and it is over.  If not, his teacher will look at his end of the year assessments.  If he is proficient, then he is a 4th grader come June 13th.  If not, then he is off to summer school, or whatever fun name they are choosing to give it.  If he makes it through summer school and shows that he has mastered what he needs for 4th grade, then he will officially be a 4th grader.  If not, then he will be in a 4th grade classroom in August, but with a 3rd grade label.  Clear?  Of course not.

Isaac's teachers have tried to keep the stress level down in class as the tests have gotten closer, and I have tried to keep away from the subject at home, while mentally preparing for a rough week and planning how I can make it easier for him.  But about three weeks ago the lamentations began -- Isaac wishing EOG's were over and wishing that he didn't have to take them at all.  Isaac worrying about not being to sleep the night before because he would be thinking about the test.  Isaac feeling like the weeks were dragging and the tests would never be behind him.

I have worked in education for 14 years and been involved with EOG's every single one of them.  I have never liked them, but I have always accepted that they are a necessary evil.  Now, experiencing the testing from the perspective of a parent, I no longer believe they are necessary, but I definitely believe they are evil.

Of course, there have been children's books written about testing.  They are humorous works for the most part that point out the ridiculousness of the process and try to help kids relax before the big day by making fun of how stressed the teachers get about it.  And a few of them are spot on.  Every teacher who reads them recognizes the absurdity of what we go through each year.

Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler is a great parody of what happens as the tests get closer.  The students prepare for the IPTU test as the teachers grow more harried and exhausted trying to make sure they are ready.  Parents have bedtime bubble practice sessions and ramp up the protein.  Just as in real life, the kids catch on that the test is a little more important than the teachers were leading students to believe.

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day is a posthumous collaboration between Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith.  Seuss began the work and Prelutsky and Smith finished it after his death.  Diffendoofer is a one-of-a-kind school with unique teachers and students.  But its existence is threatened when the students are made to take a standardized test that doesn't quite measure what and how they have been learning.  But because the students have been taught how to think, they do just fine.

A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech tells the story of an over-exuberant principal who believes his school is wonderful, as are his teachers and students.  So wonderful, in fact, that they should come to school every day to learn more, do more, and test more.  So no more weekend tree climbing or summer-time woods exploring.  It is school all the time, until he is reminded that children do need school, but they need to be away from it, too.

The Report Card by Andrew Clements is a novel about a girl-genius intent on staying out of the spotlight until she gets fed up with the fuss over test scores and grades.  So instead of the straight A's she normally brings home, she deliberately fails every subject.  Then she really gets attention.

Yes, I see myself and my colleagues in these books.  Like it or not, we have to test and the tests not only determine the kids' futures, they determine whether or not we will have jobs in the future.  So, Isaac is out playing ultimate Frisbee right now because exercise is good for his brain and he will be exhausted enough to sleep tonight.  He is going to bed early so he can get plenty of rest.  I am making him a high-protein breakfast all week so he won't crash mid-morning right in the middle of a reading passage.  I am teaching him stretches to do after each reading passage or every ten math problems to wake up his brain.  We are keeping this week low-key so he doesn't have any disruptions to his routine or extra things to worry about.

Incidentally, we already know how the students did on their end-of-the-year assessments, so I know whether or not the outcome of this test will directly affect what happens the rest of this year or next fall.  But Isaac doesn't know.  I want him to do his best, try his hardest, so he can feel successful when the letters get sent home with the test scores.  And I want him to know that regardless of what the letter says, he is smart, talented, supported and loved.  If there were a test for that, we would pass with flying colors.