The sun is shining through hazy skies, temps are in the fifties, and thanks to spring break, I don't have to be working at 830a--so I went for a walk.
At first, I regretted not plugging myself in to music to make the walk go by faster. But I quickly changed my mind when my attention turned to the sounds of the hike and bike--birdsong, dog barks and leash rattles, squirrels chirping, leaves rustling.
My eyes focused on the water remaining in the drainage ditch, the wooden and metal sculptures crowded on an apartment landing, the chattering squirrels eyeing me with suspicion, the buds straining to emerge from the fig bushes.
Last week, I shared The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter in my library Book Nook. I made sure to emphasize the passages where Winter remarks on how Jane was a watcher, and prompted for the synonym--observer. I think I was subconsciously following up on a conversation I had with a parent last weekend. This interaction came to mind as I observed nature on my walk.
(Disclaimer: I do not hold an advanced degree in reading pedagogy. My teaching background is in special education, and I often refer to my classroom experience as a "warped universe" due to the intricacies of teaching students with learning disabilities and emotional difficulties. Teaching and working in Title I and alternative placement schools also contribute to my personal bias.)
At a volunteer opportunity last weekend, I had a long conversation with one of the highly involved parents from my school. One of the topics he asked me about was the "hot spot" in our testing data--inference. (Bear in mind that this school's scores are in the nineties, but since we are required to review and improve upon weak areas, inference is a focal point.)
I took a deep breath...and replied that it has been my experience that children's inference skills have a lot to do with what they bring to the test--their own background knowledge, or schema. After all, they don't usually read test passages about reading and writing; the passages are stories and descriptions. I gave an overly simplistic example to illustrate my point: if I'm reading a passage about something that's liquid, blue, and has octopuses swimming in it, but have no idea what an ocean is, how will I be able to infer that information?
More observations I touched on: We have more curriculum to cover and fewer field trips than in the past. While the content has increased, the length of the school day and year have stayed the same for decades. We have students with widely varied backgrounds, and yet test questions are not necessarily reflective of demographics.
Back to my walk and my final thoughts on the topic: Often, our focus on testing leads to teaching our students to conform and react, not necessarily to observe and experience. This includes appropriate, fulfilling social interaction, which I also worry about. If we, and they, can't slow down enough to listen to the birdsong, note the roughness of the tree bark, dip our toes into the ocean, laugh and cry with those around us...how will they infer meaning from text?