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What Does it All Mean? Really?

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Why does it always feel like it comes down to this? I’m sitting here watching my students take their on-demand writing assessment for opinion writing. I know I have shown them ways to plan, ways to draft, elaborate, etc and yet here I sit, worried. I tried to explain the importance of doing our best today…but why? Shouldn’t we, at least, attempt to do our best every day with the realization that some days are better than others? Yet, I found myself falling into that test trap. The one where I think it all comes down to this moment. Everything we have done, all that we have worked for is somehow measured by a single sample of writing. This tension and stress may have been fed by an earlier freak out when I saw a sample of the “soon to come” M-Step assessment test sample. I wanted to just go crawl in a corner.

This is the first year I am finding myself faced with so much test pressure. I had it before, sure, but this year is definitely different. Tests on the computer, test prep and then, of course, all the curriculum. OH, and try to make it fun! I really try not to get too bogged down by the nonsense, but some days I lose the battle with myself and it gets the best of me. Today was one of those days.

Direction. Where to next? For starters, I need to see this as a moment to reflect and allow my students to reflect as well. Let them take a look at their piece of writing. Analyze it. Compare it to their other work. Take a look at a sample. What will they notice? When it really comes down to it, I know this is not their best, but do they? When I asked today they assuredly said, “YES!” What will they say tomorrow? I’m curious and it will be an interesting conversation.

I realize I also need to share. Share some of my blunders. It happens. Writing is a slippery slope. It is messy. Sometimes we strike gold while on other days all we find are bits of dirt. What I need them to realize is that sifting through the dirt is worth the mess because among those grains of grit can be flecks of sparkle.

 

Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.

8 thoughts on “What Does it All Mean? Really? Leave a comment

  1. This is a conversation I have all the time with myself. It is a slippery slope and so difficult ask a young person (any person) to do on-demand writing. There is writing and then there is performance writing. They are connected yet the creation and development of each is so far removed.

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  2. I really try to use on-demand assessments as an authentic observation of writers at work, with an open-ended invitation to choose a topic and write something. It’s best when it feels like any other day in writing workshop (minus partner work). When an on-demand day feels totally different than regular writing workshop I have to stop for a minute and consider why that might be – have we been providing too much adult scaffolding all along? Are kids not used to writing for extended periods of time on their own? Is it something as simple as a tremble in my voice, or my insistence today REALLY matters — but they I have to ask, why I haven’t been saying that every day?

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  3. Kathy (above) has already said pretty much what I would have said…that “on demand” is not how true writing really works. Sigh. I have sat in your chair and often been disappointed by my (ESL) students results but I learned to not see it as a reflection of my efforts. It’s a reflection of where THEY are at this time in their development. There are so many factors that go into becoming a good writer and it all takes time…years. I did not become a writer until grad school and I was always an “excellent” student. Take comfort in knowing you did the best you could do (and I’m sure you did) 🙂

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  4. Thanks for sharing the doubts that EVERY teacher embodies when it’s time for “on demand” writing. Misery loves company – especially when that company is someone whom we all respect and want to emulate – YOU.

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  5. Such great timing, Betsy! Next week I work with a district scoring district-wide assessments for grades 3, 7 and 10 – district choice to show how they are working on their goal of “creating communicators”. Always interesting when the decision comes from within. Students have two days for this work – not unlimited time – but feels more like writing!

    Reminds me of “asking a small classroom group what they knew about fluency” and the teacher so distressed when they just sat there. On any given day, one little change can be off-setting and so disruptive. Independence doesn’t happen overnight. Transfer doesn’t happen overnight. An on-demand is just one fence post in the mile of fencing along the road. Just one indicator! 🙂

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  6. Keep up your dedicated work! It can be so difficult to see the forest for the trees where test prep is involved and it’s made even more difficult by the fact that the lessons they learn may not be quantifiable in a particular year. You are giving your students the tools they need to be lifelong writers and thinkers and the sparkle payoff does make it worthwhile.

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  7. Testing writers feels so wrong to me. Real writers have time to work on their pieces, to revise, to edit- to honor the process. Writing for a test or “on demand” takes a lot of that away so I think it’s hard to be and do your best. Also, test prompts can be removed from the students and not really what they would pick to write for themselves. I love your last line about sifting through the dirt, but on timed tests, they don’t get that chance. Love your honesty and sharing your experiences!

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