Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Reflections On "How Things Used To Be"

By Kim Miklusak

As the school year comes to an end and we start planning for next year, I have been hearing people reflect online and in person that students in general are coming in "lower" than previous years on state standardized tests and in reading ability and that this "wasn't how it used to be."  I'm not saying I've never said this before, and I'm not saying we don't have new challenges in areas of testing, technology, etc., but I'm struck by a few thoughts on this and reflected more after following some threads on Twitter.  One in particular by @triciaebarvia pointed out that this Declinism is a bias as well as is deficit thinking about our students--both elements to consider as we plan our curriculum, content, instruction, mindset, etc...

So this led me to reflect on my own beliefs:
  • What do we mean when we say "kids are coming in lower and lower" on standardized tests?  In reading?  In writing?  What does that mean as a value judgment on another person?
  • Do we believe all students can succeed if we view them as "lower than" someone who came in the past?  Do we hold implicit biases about students or groups?  Further, do students internalize this in their beliefs about themselves?
  • Did students actually come in "stronger" before?  How is that determined by our metrics, our assessments, and how they are used?  (i.e. do we believe students used to all read the whole book we assigned outside of class before? has the testing changed? is the testing accurate?)
  • Have societal expectations changed?  Are our students, for example, taking on more responsibilities?  Are they working more hours?  Are they taking on more AP classes?  More sports and activities?
  • Would we want our own children--if we have children--to be viewed as the "low kid" or one of "those kids?"  And if the answer to that question is, "My child wouldn't be the 'low kid,'" what does that mean for how we view our students?
What if we instead celebrated our students' strengths, as @triciaebarvia says in her tweet--and others have pointed out?  How can we combat deficit thinking about our students: defining them by a perceived what they are not rather than who they are and who they want to be?

As we prepare our curriculum, we set goals of wanting our students to have agency and take ownership and embrace their learning.  Let's reflect on our own beliefs and be sure our mindsets are framed in such a way to create and support those conditions in our classroom!  Another way to do this is to be sure to follow people on Twitter and read resources by others who have been explaining their experiences on this for some time.

Related: I'm currently reading Being the Change by Sara K. Ahmed and will have more to share in another post next week!

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