Friday, April 20, 2012

School Spirit

I teach in what could be called a "typical American high school." The whole community goes to the football games, my kids are giddy with the thought of the upcoming prom, the students move from class to class with the hopes of doing something with their lives when they graduate. But one thing I have noticed over the past few years is an increasingly large number of students who do not fit in to the "typical American high school" mold.

One of the most disenfranchising events at school for this growing population is the all-school spirit assembly. Historically, the entire school goes to the Gym 3 times a year to recognize the athletic teams who are currently competing. Students file in to the Gym and segregate into various locations in the bleachers by freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior classes. The team captains are brought down to the floor, given a microphone and two minutes to tell of the success of the team and attempt to drum up business for the upcoming game. It usually goes down something like this: "yeah...the [insert sport here] team is doing pretty good this year. We beat [insert rival team] last week. Come on out to support us tonight when we play [insert other rival team]. GO SENIORS!!!" At this point the senior and juniors start chanting back and forth as they try to out scream the opposing class. These athletic team showcases are punctuated by games that usually involve 1-4 individuals from each class. The games range from tug-of-war (which is usually pretty fun to watch) to food speed eating contests (which border on hazing). I'm sure similar assemblies go on throughout the country in other high schools.

Well, today we had an spirit assembly scheduled, and I walked to the gym with my usual low expectations and was met with something entirely and pleasantly different.

The assembly began with the National Honors Society bringing in their new members and recognizing academic excellence.

This was followed by the usual highlighting of one of our athletic teams. But instead of the usual drone of disinterested chatter from the bleachers, there was silence and interest from the students. It was as if they noticed something different about the assembly.

Next was the calling down of 8 students to participate in one of the typical games that pit the classes against each other, and I nearly lost interest and began contemplating sneaking back to my class. And I am glad I didn't.

Next a large group of students wearing one of two uniquely designed T-shirts flooded to the gym floor. A young man was given the microphone, the rest of the students crouched to the floor, and the young man waited for silence. He then proceeded to read a poem he had written to the entire student body. He was followed by another student who read her poem, and another who read his. Immediately, the crouching students stood up, other student emerged from the wings holding microphones and as some sang and rapped, the others (including the poetry readers) danced. This assembly had just broken the mold of being a showcase of an exclusive group of students to being a place where art, academics and athletics were honored side by side.

This was followed by another athletic team highlight, a tug-of-war between classes, a video of a light saber battle (all student created and produced), and a winter sport highlight film including the baseball game played by our students with special needs and also footage from our students riding at our local skate park.

I am typically very cynical about school spirit since it usually centers around athletics and social events. But today I saw the sort of school spirit I can support.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Not On the Test

My son is 6, and we educate him using a hybrid of public face-to-face, public online, and homeschool situations. This week he was at school and took a reading diagnostic test. This particular test is used carefully as a diagnostic tool to intervene and help kids who are struggling to read, so I wasn't tool worried about him taking it. But being a bit of a standardized test skeptic, I decided to ask him about the test he took at school. The conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hey buddy, did you take a test at school today?"
Z: "Yeah. It was pretty easy."
Me: "Can you tell me about it?"
Z: "Well, I had to do some reading and then I had to do some things."
Me: "Really? Like what?"
Z: "One thing I read told me to draw a tree on both sides of the house that was in the picture."
Me: "And what did you do?"
Z: "I decided to draw an evergreen tree on one side of the house, and a deciduous tree on the other side of the house."
Me in my head: "Go ahead assessment grader, just TRY to determine what my son was thinking when he answered THAT!"
Me: "Nice work buddy!"
Z: "Yeah, I did that because those are the types of trees we have at our house. The pine trees are evergreen trees, and the aspen trees are deciduous."
L: "We have a whole flock of pine trees at our house!" (She is 4)

Conclusion: Even if the recorded answer to a question appears right or wrong, a brief assessment of reading, writing, or any other subject is woefully inadequate to probe the depth of a child's mind.