Accountability in education has been a political hot potato for decades, and when the Bush administration came to office, it upped the ante for schools around the country by insisting on a battery of national standardized tests to measure student achievement. Many school systems responded by standardizing their own curriculum, gearing instruction to the tests, and even eliminating recess and shortening lunch period to cram more learning time into an already hectic day.
The Obama administration also has educational excellence as a goal, but may well promote a more complex way of reaching that goal. However, both national and state education standards are here to stay. The trick is to meet those standards without giving up the many creative methods teachers use to motivate children to learn. There are ways for you to help students meet educational standards and pass those standardized exams without teaching to the test.
First, make sure you thoroughly understand the curriculum requirements of your classroom, and that those requirements conform to national and state education standards. Take part in school and regional meetings dealing with curriculum, and brainstorm with other teachers at your grade level to share approaches to meeting curriculum requirements. Armed with a thorough knowledge of your curriculum, you can create a variety of enjoyable learning opportunities that meet national and state education standards while respecting the skills and academic levels of all of your students.
There is no need to choose between teaching phonics and exposing children to enjoyable books. Integrate your curriculum by using high-quality children’s literature to teach phonics and other basic reading skills; by combining reading and art lessons with history, social studies, science, and math; and by relying on the concepts of multiple intelligences theory and differentiated (individualized) learning to reach every child.
Make sure your students have access to plenty of books in the classroom for recreational reading. The availability of high-quality children’s literature has never been greater. Children’s book publishers are providing rich collections of compelling stories that reflect the increasingly diverse world of today’s primary and middle-school students. Education publishers are also offering colorfully illustrated, engaging books and periodicals on a wide variety of subjects designed to meet today’s education standards.
Adapt “Multiple Intelligences” Theory to Your Classroom’s Needs
Review Harvard professor and education expert Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, and apply it to your own classroom. For over twenty-five years, savvy teachers have known about and used multiple intelligences theory in their classrooms. Gardner proposed in his book Frames of Mind (1983) that human beings learn by use of seven different intelligences: verbal, logical-mathematical, musical, visual-spatial, tactile kinesthetic, and inter- and intrapersonal. He later suggested that more intelligences exist, among them naturalistic intelligence, spiritual intelligence, and something he referred to as “existential” intelligence.
You can adapt this concept to provide a variety of learning experiences in your classrooms. Also, gear your teaching methods to children functioning at a variety of developmental and intellectual levels. The combination of multiple intelligences theory and individualized learning opportunities has in recent years been formalized as differentiated or differential learning. Differentiated learning allows for targeted instruction that will teach children the basics needed to meet state and national education standards while providing support for slower learners and enrichment for learners at all levels. A wealth of materials for both multiple intelligences theory and differentiated learning is available to help teachers structure a supportive classroom environment for all their students.
Preparing for the Test
Eventually, your class will be faced with the dreaded Standardized Test. While your teaching methods shouldn’t be restricted to “teaching to the test,” it makes sense to develop a lesson plan, or a few lesson plans, on how to take a standardized test. There are particular skills involved, and if you cover these before the day of the actual test your students will be much more comfortable with the process. Make these lessons fun; make a game of them. Above all, present the test as an exciting challenge, not a threat.
The demands of the “No Child Left Behind” Act and whatever augments or replaces it don’t have to result in developmentally inappropriate expectations or rigid scheduling for our children. Schools can use many creative, child-friendly techniques that will help students of all ages meet education standards while retaining their carefree,fun-loving kid status.
Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books. 1983. (This references the original edition; many newer editions have been published in the past twenty-five years.)