August 11, 2009

Insomnia: Wrangling with Work & Writing

I don't officially go back for another week, but yesterday began a week's worth of voluntary paid professional development, and today we are allowed to pick up or keys so we can get into our classrooms.

This morning I'm up, two hours before the alarm, thinking about the PD session I'm conducting on writing traits this Thursday.

(I initially woke up because I had a weird dream about hissing cockroaches, which also included a staff meeting where my principal gave us a 20-line to-do list, but that's not scary enough to not fall asleep again.)

Thursday. That's two days away, and I'm just thinking about what I should include. Of course, I've known about this gig for a month, but I was off. The possibilities are endless, with three hours. What does everyone want? What does everyone need? In the back of my mind, I have some colleagues voices wishing they had more on how to score. Specifically, score like the state writing exam scorers do so we are on the same page in our classroom. I tend to score more harshly than the state scorers do, and I think I have colleagues who are better in tune than I am. And no, it doesn't bother me that I am a more critical scorer.

I don't religiously use the state writing exam rubric, which is based on the 6 +1 Traits model, to score my students' writing. It is a great idea to use the state rubric in our own classrooms, and I do use it with my high school classes. I use an IBO Middle Years rubric more often. Sometimes teaching in the IB program is confusing because there is IB stuff, and then there's testing stuff. IB is suppose to support whatever else we do in our schools, and it does, but sometimes I have to make choices when things do not line up well. I like the one where THE TEST isn't at the center of the universe. That's not to say that assessment isn't involved. I take assessment seriously. I even take THE TEST very seriously, it's just that there's more to life and learning.

Don't I sound like a good candidate to talk about the traits? The training is suppose to be about IVOC--related to our points of evaluation: ideas, voice, organization, and conventions. And you can bet your booty that when IVOC is involved, thoughts of THE TEST dance in our heads. Sure, I'll do a training on WRITING. IVOC will be involved. IVOC is actually a good framework for evaluation, but I think it's purposes are narrowly addressed in the shadow of THE TEST. Being good writers will help them pass the test. True. Did you know that writing can do so much more?

I think starting the year off by NOT having a training on how to prepare the students for the writing test sounds a little rebellious. Yummy! Let's have a training on writing. Some hippy-dippy let's-get-passionate-about-writing kind of talk sounds like the perfect way to start the year. I'm serious. My students who take pride in their written ideas are more likely to do well on THE TEST, and time spent in my classroom is a lot more enjoyable.

Writing is a tool of expression. It's more than that thing they need to do to pass a test. It hurts my heart to frame such a wonderful thing around a test. I work hard to find the balance between testing frenzy and feeding hungry minds and souls. (I won't even pretend like I don't get off-balanced, either.) I plan to encourage my colleagues to do the same.

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