Thanks to the many posters who commented on the thread about teachers, school librarians, and trade books. We learned about resources such as Teachingbooks and Thinkfinity, but also had many confirmations of the fact that whatever resources such as these could potentially offer, they are not appreciably changing how most teachers deal with social studies — the gap remains. Whether that shifts the focus to how teachers are trained, or to some kind of publicity and marketing campaign that shows that books belong in the social studies classroom, we have at least begun to identify the real problem. Which brings us to this post, and another real problem. Did you all see this article in yesterday’s News of the Week in Review? http://tinyurl.com/2f3fckw
The article is about schools that are trying to separate evaluations of students that focus on behavior — neatness, promptness, socialization in class — from knowledge, as expressed on tests. Here’s one quotation: “We are getting rid of grade fog,” Mr. Brady said. “We need to stop overlooking kids who can do the work and falsely inflate grades of kids who can’t but who look good. We think this will be good for everyone.” In one way I agree completely, and, though the article did not say this, there is an implicit attempt here to correct for gender bias. Sasha recently started a Kids Dictionary, his first entry explains that, in Kid Language, “nice” means “little kid” “mean” means “big kid.” That is the code as he’s explaining it — tongue in cheek, sort of. But to boys who need to show other boys that they are tough, unbossable, strong, scruffy — the opposite of neat, nice, quiet, and compliant — a classroom may look very different than to a girl accustomed to getting points for fitting in, acting in ways approved of by adults, showing a mixture of demure acceptance and eager responsiveness. These schools seem to be trying to look past those behavior games to what students know.
And yet, the article also says that the very tests the schools are “focused not on exposure to content and activities for their own sake but on outputs.” That quotation is from one of the experts constructing the tests. And there I am less convinced. We do need to make sure kids are learning stuff, and need to measure that. But a great deal of learning is precisely a matter of coming to be engaged in the material for its own sake, not just in the interest of being able to spit it back — in a way the article reminds me of Cecile’s Third Grade dilemma — preparing kids for tests on Greek columns and Roman arches, even as the distract makes “changes” its over-riding theme. So even as we think of how to bring books into classrooms, we are witnessing confusing over what it is that classroom ought to be doing or need to be doing.