On soapboxes and tirades

One would think I was a soap distributer for all the metaphorical soapboxes I’ve been perched upon this past week.

Most memorable was the one about testing. My pronouncement from it was unexpected and I remember waving my arms quite madly to make the point.

But let me back up a smidge. My intro to journalism classes were learning about writing the staff editorial, so I broke them up into groups about the size of an editorial staff. Their mission was to generate a topic on which they could voice an opinion of the critical, commendatory, persuasive, explanatory, or commemoratory type.

One group chose testing, and they weren’t even referring to standardized testing. They were simply frustrated by the ways in which teachers got them ready for regular tests over units of study. The more they discussed their topic, however, the more I realized they weren’t talking about reviewing for a test the day before; they were talking about learning the material throughout the unit, but they considered it preparation for the test.

I asked them why they thought they were learning that material in the first place.

“So we can pass the test.”

I let my frustration show. Gave ‘em the speech about learning for learning’s sake, learning for knowledge, learning how to learn so you can learn other stuff. They stared wide-eyed. Of course, that could have had to do more with the crazed look in my eye than the novelty of the idea of learning to know something.

I hope I planted a new perspective on that topic.

I finally stepped down from the soapbox, and the bell rang.

In the days since that exchange, I’ve thought about how often I test – not that often. I’ve thought about how I refer to tests. In that intro class, rarely. In my newspaper and yearbook classes, only at midterm, when I’m required to have some sort of final grade, so I usually tie a final grade to a story or project they do for that purpose or one they’ve already done.

In my English classes, it’s a different story, but I’m still not a test-Nazi. I do hear myself saying, “You might jot this down. It could show up on a test.” Of course it will. There will be a unit test. But more and more, I try to make my tests about how to use the knowledge rather than recall the information.

How we teach, how students learn – or don’t, how we assess the whole education system and who does that assessing – it’s a HUGE soapbox of an odd shape, one I’ve been jumping around on a lot lately. I might as well sand it down, make some comfortable spots, throw on some pillows and personalize the darn thing, because I’m going to be spending some time on it.

About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

One Response to On soapboxes and tirades

  1. evelynlauer says:

    So true about our newspaper classes vs. our English classes and the word “test.” I feel so much pressure in my English classes to test, and I feel like the administration doesn’t care about my journalism/newspaper classes.

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