Archive for February, 2010

Multigenre Research Projects: An Introduction

This is the first of several posts about a multigenre research project I have just completed in my language and literacy courses with preservice educators, grades P-8. (I teach one class focused on P-5, one class focused on 4-8).

For all of you librarians out there, even though the students I teach are future classroom teachers, please continue to read along. As I’ve gone through this project, I’ve seen numerous opportunities for collaboration between language arts teachers and librarians. (Ironically, there were times when I wished I had a librarian with me as another teacher. Much of my focus was on composition, and a librarian partner might have helped me do more with information literacy and ethics.) Multigenre research, as I see it, lies at the intersection of research and writing, and presents a great opportunity for librarians to collaborate with classroom teachers.

The first several of posts in this series will describe the project, some background, and the process we went through over the past weeks. Then, I hope to share some pieces of my students’ projects so you can get a sense of what multigenre research projects might look like.

I probably should have been writing about this all along, but to be honest I had no idea how these projects would turn out.  This is my first time teaching multigenre research. Now that the finished projects are rolling in, I am thrilled with what the students have accomplished, and happy that a number of them have given me permission to share their work here.

I hope you’ll tune in to see what they’ve done. I think many of the students surprised themselves with what they accomplished, and how “research” became something challenging, creative, and productive.  I feel, in many ways, that the students succeeded in spite of my fumblings as I learned to teach this process. Many of them went above and beyond what I set before them as tasks, and, as they have told me, quite a few wished they had more time to continue writing and research.  How great to hear students say that, especially since, at the beginning of the semester, the words “research project” filled the room with apprehension and dread.

So, to begin, my question is…why does “research” prompt that reaction?  Why does it fill many of us with dread? As an educator who believes that ongoing research and learning is essential to being an effective educator, how can we change the aversion that people have to research?  I’m starting to see some possible answers coming out of this project.  I welcome your thoughts.

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Teachers and Tests…Scandals and Surveillance

Yesterday, the story broke: widespread irregularities in standardized test scores in Georgia schools.

As an educator, this breaks my heart. It doesn’t make my profession look ethical or responsible. I have no idea what happened, and I hope there is a reasonable explanation for these problems. But when I think about the remedies that are being recommended for these issues, I cringe.

Because of testing irregularities, our governor is calling for a detailed analysis of the results and considering more monitoring of testing in sites suspected of cheating. That may all sound great, until we remember that budgets are falling.  Class sizes are likely going up, educators (including several of my colleagues) are being fired or reshuffled, and Perdue suggests test score analyses and on-site monitoring of testing, which will surely cost money. Really?

We are on a path toward relaxing expenditure controls so that library programs and professional development don’t have to be directly funded. But our governor can consider further funding for the testing industry, which already takes up too much of our education budget? Instead of ensuring learning opportunities for educators and updated library materials, two expenditures that might boost scores and give teachers the support they need to teach, Perdue wants us to consider investing in people who watch kids take tests and ensure that teachers handle the test forms ethically?

Mr. Perdue, how about reconsidering the unreasonable expectations that may tempt honorable people to compromise their integrity? We don’t know yet what happened, but it does not take a genius to see that the testing pressure is breaking our education system; indeed, it is breaking many of our educators themselves. They don’t have to cheat for us to know it is broken. The fact that irregularities lead so quickly to suspicion tells us enough.

And our governor thinks tying teacher pay to test scores is going to be a positive change? Will tying our livelihoods to test scores create less temptation to cheat? I wonder if Mr. Perdue would have passed a standardized test in inductive logic.

Shifting gears to my parent self, this quote from the article linked above also fascinated me…

Ben Scafidi, director of the nonprofit Center for an Educated Georgia in Norcross, said the findings are likely to upset parents.

“I’m a parent, I’m mortified,” said Scafidi, who has two children in public schools. “I think parents are very concerned about how their children do on the CRCT, and now they don’t know how their children are doing.”

I’m surprised that the reason Mr. Scafidi was upset was not because of the possible unethical behavior of teachers or administrators, or the testing mania that created this mess, but rather because without CRCT scores, we don’t know how our kids are doing.

Do we have to wait for a sheet with bar graphs and numbers on it to know how our kids are doing? Is that what we have come to? I sit down with my Kindergartner and read with her almost daily.  I know how she is doing. I talk to my children’s teachers often, who also help me know how they are doing. I check my children’s schoolwork and homework, I talk to them about what is happening in school, and I encourage them. I know much more about how they are doing from our daily interactions and communicating with their teachers than from their CRCT scores. Their CRCT scores may give me a fine-grained analysis of whether or not my daughter has mastered punctuation, but it doesn’t tell me if she loves writing, or enjoys learning. By no means does that test alone tell me how my kids are doing.

Most parents I speak to don’t feel this way either. Parents are concerned about the tests because it represents so much of what their kids are taught, unfortunately. Our students have internalized the rhetoric of testing. Parents also know that the tests can be used to make decisions about their children’s education. So, they have to pay attention. Tests matter because we have made them matter, not necessarily because they tell us something critically and infallibly important about our kids and their learning.

Parents are also concerned about tests because they see their kids getting sick before test days. Kids grow sleepless, nauseous, anxious, ill. I hope, when the state starts selecting monitors for the testing sites under scrutiny, they include “cleaning up after sick kids” in the job description, because the increased pressure will only trickle down to the teachers, and then the kids. I, for one, am already sick about it.


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