Today I had intended to use our school’s set of “clickers” – individual remotes that look like an old chunky cell phones that allow students to respond directly to questions posed on the SMART board. Their answers show up on the board like when Richard Dawson announces “Survey said!” on Family Feud. However, due to technical difficulty on my end, this did not happen. Tomorrow, we shall click.
Instead of having a Family Feud-style review of the standardized reading practice test (woo! Exciting!), I put them into groups and made them read a Sherwood Anderson excerpt called “Paper Pills”, starring a character named “Doctor Reefy.” The students were incredibly disappointed to find that the excerpt was not about psychedelic drugs. Rather, it is about an old eccentric doctor who lives in Winesburg, Ohio, in 1919, and, after the death of his young, wealthy wife, is so filled by grief that he begins writing thoughts on little slips of paper and sticking them into his pocket and leaving them there until they become “little hard round balls, and when his pockets were filled he dumped them out upon the floor.” Weird, right?
I was kind of surprised none of my students made the connection that you could easily replace “paper” with “booger” and much of the story would stay the same. When thoughts like these come to me, I can tell I need more sleep – my teaching becomes more a stream of consciousness of what is going through my head, rather than conscious word choices meant to help my students learn. For example, I gave the following monologue to my students during our Q&A sessions:
Me: Our question asks us about how figurative language is used to tell us our story took place in the past, long before today. We have to read all four options – the test writers love to trick you by giving you a “true” answer and a “right” answer. For example, option A says, “The author uses a simile to compare the story of Doctor Reefy’s courtship and marriage to the deliciousness of apples.” This did actually happen in the story, so the answer is “true.” Do we find apples delicious today?
Me: So does this answer demonstrate that the story took place in the past?
Me: Good. Let’s eliminate it. How about option B – “The author uses imagery to describe Doctor Reefy driving his horse through the streets of his small town.” Do we drive our horse down the street often?
Kid: Sometimes. Christmas.
Me: So if it happens rarely, we wouldn’t consider it part of our daily life. The story talks about Dr. Reefy taking his wife driving in his carriage. I guess if a guy asked a girl today to take a ride on his carriage, she probably wouldn’t immediately think horses.
Kids: [Silence]…so the answer’s B?
The fact that 95% of my students missed my pretty blatant innuendo made me sad; the fact that they only cared about the right answer, not the process, made me sadder. This is the result of the test-happy America we’ve created: our students only want the RIGHT answer, regardless of how they arrived there. It probably explains why my students don’t think cheating is a moral issue, or why they get upset when I demand they show pre-writing on essay. “If my essay is good, why does the pre-writing matter?” they ask. I answer, “Because your essay wasn’t good. You were disorganized and went off prompt.” The typical response to this statement is, “Well, that’s your opinion, Mrs. H. We didn’t all go to Harvard.”
The number one reason my kids will fail next week’s tests is because they don’t read pay attention to detail. They miss crucial words in questions (There’s a big difference between “Which of the following best supports the main idea?” and “Which of the following does not support the main idea?”). By not reading all four answer options, they pick the one that is true to the story, not one that answers the question. I’m tried all sorts of tactics to encourage them to pre-write on essays. My latest one is comparing writing an essay to putting together a jigsaw puzzle; everyone uses the picture on the box to do it, at least at the beginning. If a person doesn’t know what the finished product should look like, it’ll be a heck of a time getting there. The pre-writing and outlining is like the box on the puzzle; the essay itself is putting together the pieces in the order you know they should go. I was pretty proud of my metaphor. I guess we’ve got a week to see if it succeeds.