Calm Down: How NOT to Freak Out About Standards and State Testing*


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By nature, I have always been a hesitant person.  When I was a kid, I was unsure of everything.  Especially food.  If it didn’t look or smell like chicken or pasta or cheese or bread, I’d pass.  I didn’t learn to ride my bike until I was about 11 years old.  And I still have never been on a roller coaster.  While my cautious personality has sometimes delayed my experiences regarding some amazing foods and adventures, it has also saved me from diving too quickly into situations I’d soon regret.

As a teacher, I am skeptical of new trends, especially those that are extremes.  I love the idea of a full on reading/writing workshop, but I also know the reality that my students’ abilities and interests are not quite there yet.  I hate the idea of high-stakes standardized testing, but I also know the reality that my students will have to tackle these tests without me.  So as a teacher, I need to find a balance between these worlds and not jump on the bandwagon of every new curriculum reform and tech tool out there.  I need to find what works for me and my students.

When I heard of Kelly Gallagher’s latest book of wisdom, In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom, I let out a sigh of relief.  A) Because Kelly Gallagher published another book that I could add to my collection and B) because I could tell by the title that this book would be a voice of reason amidst the cacophony of panic.  I loved this book before I even opened it.  The title says it all.

Students.  It’s the buzzword we all seemed to have forgotten about.  We’re so worried and hyped up over new teacher evaluation methods, the latest technology tools, the next wave of standards, and the avalanche of state testing, that we’ve forgotten about the students and whether or not they’re even learning.

Gallagher’s book reminds us what we already know.  We are fantastic, effective teachers, and the standards are helpful guidelines meant to keep our teaching and our students’ learning on target.  We need to adjust the focus back to our students and their learning so that the standards and successful test scores will follow, but also to foster lifelong readers and creative, articulate writers.  Not only does this book break down and analyze each and every Common Core State Standard, but in true Gallagher fashion, it also provides a multitude of lessons, activities, and assessments that can be used to reach a variety of these standards and skills.  Gallagher looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the reading, writing, speaking, and listening standards and advises how you can use the standards to help your students become successful, literate members of society.

If you read any professional development book this year, let this be it.  You will walk away rejuvenated, relaxed, and full of engaging, effective techniques to bring back to your classroom.

*The title of this post was inspired by Kelly Gallagher’s working title for his book. I give him full credit for both my title and the majority of what goes on in my classroom. 

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