I'm particularly concerned with one kind of fear that seems to be permeating schools. It is associated with both learning and teaching. Children are afraid of failure, or to be more specific, not having the "right" answer. Teachers are afraid of straying from the prescribed curriculum into their own autonomy and personal experiences because they might miss "covering" something that shows up on the standardized test. As a result, their students will get the wrong answers and they will lose their jobs. So the bogey man that has a strangle-hold on schools, which should be safe places to fail, is the culture that has arisen around the high stakes attached to the standardized tests and the fear of testing. This is heightened by the time spent in test prep, the effect of a school's collective test scores on real estate values, and group-think shifting towards skill-and -drill, mind-numbing activities that may raise test scores at the expense of real learning.
Recently, I mentioned the upcoming Chappaqua Children's Book Festival to a nurse who I was drawing blood from me. She has two school-age children and I suggested she come to the festival. "But what if the books at the fair don't cover the questions on the test?"she asked. Now that's a really interesting question. It implies that a student must have some specific prior knowledge for the test and that schools have the secret sauce that will allow her children to succeed. Oy! Allow me to address this fear.
The Standardized Tests are basically reading comprehension. Questions pertain to passages on the actual test that are excepted from books, including those written by iNK authors, not from texts books and other school books that are required reading. So the children who do well on the tests have read widely and deeply. Here are some suggestions to build up confidence in your own students and children:
- Begin with the Nonfiction Minute. Use the archives to find Minutes that appeal to your child. If your child is an English language learner or has reading challenges, have them listen to the audio file of the author reading his/her Minute, before attempting to read it themselves. This will strengthen the reading-for-meaning muscle.
- Go to the library with your student or child. Ask for books on subjects they are currently studying. Maybe they will recognize an author from the Nonfiction Minute. Have them read the first page to see if it interests them. Let them choose one book to read that they think that they will like. The aim is to leave the library with a book they are looking forward to reading.
- Keep it up.
As a child, I remember sharing my fears about school with my parents. They would suggest actions I could take to resolve my issues but mostly they told me I'd feel better the next morning. Amazing that they were right every time!