In Which We Are All Terribly Busy

I’ve been going bananas lately. Teaching. Writing. Turning in books. Finishing other books. Starting other books. And a short story. And another short story. And another teaching gig. And volunteering at the school. And taxes. And de-cluttering. Homework. Planning next year’s classes. Summer camp sign-up. College classes sign-ups for my fifteen year old (I am already freaking out about this. My baby! Taking some kind of Math class that I have never even heard of! With college kids! I am dead with sorrow!).

But with all the comings and goings I have been a lazy blogger, which is very silly of me because I have news! Good news! And events coming up. So, let’s share, shall we?

1. Tonight! March 26! I’ll be at the Red Balloon with the other Minnesota Book Awards finalists. There will be wine! And snacks! And you should come.Screenshot 2015-03-26 11.21.57

2. Which reminds me! I am a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards! Or, I’m not, but my book is. I don’t think I’ll win it, but I do very much appreciate being on such a select list. We have a lot of children’s authors in this state, and an astonishing number of very, very excellent children’s authors. It’s the water. Or maybe it’s the winter. Or maybe the ground is magic here. In any case, to get on any list of Minnesota writers is a pretty sweet feeling, and I have been enjoying it immensely.

3. And another thing! I am this year’s recipient of the McKnight Artist Fellowship for Writers of Children’s Literature. I am as astonished as you are. I am also incredibly grateful to my dear writer’s group who told me to stop being such a silly and apply already.

4. My novella! I wrote a novella called “The Unlicensed Magician” that seems to be headed for a June release from PS Publishing. Details are still fuzzy, but it was printed in Locus, which means it must be true! I’ll post links and information when I get it.

In the coming weeks I’ll be revising novels and teaching more and hiking into the forest with my kids and sleeping in old cabins and tree houses and possibly bear dens. I’ll be bracing myself for the onslaught of summer. I’ll be realizing that there aren’t many more summers before I start packing my children off to college, and I’ll be harpooned with grief. You know. Regular stuff.

 

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90-Second Newbery – the Twincy Edition!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I had the great pleasure of co-hosting the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival at the beautiful Downtown Minneapolis Library a couple weeks ago. For those of you who don’t know what this is, I encourage you to take a peek at the link here, just to check it out. It is a wondrous thing.

And here is Our Dear Mr. Kennedy’s write-up of the whole experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, and blogging too, about schools and teaching and learning – how we can support teachers in their creation of authentic learning experiences while simultaneously creating classrooms that are places of intellectual curiosity, rigor, creativity, broad knowledge, connection, empathy and joy. And I have never seen so much joy on the faces of that many kids – my goodness! there were tons of them! – as they saw themselves, larger than life on the screen, demonstrating their excellent reading and cooperative play and extended, creative thinking. About books! Great books! It was wonderful.

If you are a teacher (and many of you are) and you are reading this, I hope you will think about incorporating this program into your classrooms next year. These videos require very little investment (many are made using the phones in their pockets, or the video equipment in the media center), and are a great way to introduce books that your students may not have read before. I also highly encourage you to show a couple of these goofy videos to your students in class, just to show the amount of cool things a bunch of kids can make if they put their minds to it.

Kudos, Mr. Kennedy. And kudos to all of you great Minnesotan readers. My hat! It is off!

 

When Tests Fail: Opt Out

This. A thousand times.

Troy LaRaviere's blog

No-parcc-testing-zone

On March 2nd, members of my school’s PTA sent letters home to parents encouraging them to opt their children out of the PARCC Test. Their effort was covered in an article by Lauren FitzPatrick in the Chicago Sun-Times. Many parents asked my position on the matter.  As a result, I released the following letter to our parent community.

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I am writing to make it clear that the Blaine administration fully supports the PTA’s effort to maximize Blaine students’ instructional time. As a result we will respect and honor all parent requests to opt-out their students from the PARCC. Students whose parents opt them out will receive a full day of instruction.  Teachers are developing plans that will provide enriched learning experiences for non-testing students during the testing window. I want to clearly state that whether you opt-out or not, Blaine’s administration and teachers will respect and support…

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A Modest Proposal.

Dear Administrators, Legislators, Pundits, Superintendents, Mayors, Governors, Education Policy Writers, Board Members, General Directors, Committee Members, Department Heads and other members of the Blowharding and Bloviating classes:

Greetings.

I hope this letter finds you well. First of all, let me thank you – truly and sincerely – for your tireless work on behalf of students everywhere. I know that we don’t always come to the same conclusion, but I do appreciate your hard work and your efforts.

I am writing to you today because I have just finished writing another letter to my son’s teacher, opting him out of the upcoming Standardized Tests. I feel – no, I know – that his time will be much better spent doing enrichment work or reading a book. There are other parents at his school who have opted to do the same, and it makes me terribly happy to know that not all of the children will be subjected to the same mindless, soulless, and, frankly, pointless drudgery of yet another standardized test. And for what? What do these tests actually accomplish?

Alas, not much, according to recent research.  It is not particular tests that are the problem, Dr. Walter Stroup’s research finds. Alas, the problem rests in the DNA of the test itself. To use a rather silly analogy – we are using a bathroom scale to measure how high a student can jump. The bathroom scale works fine. It’s just the wrong tool for the job.

(The vehemence and nastiness with which Pearson Education has attacked Dr. Stroup only indicates to me that they don’t like seeing their faces in the mirror, and are attacking the person who happens to be holding it. It is a childish move, detailed here.)

I went on a bit of a rant about the subject today.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 11.09.30 AM

Actually, it went on from there:

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 11.38.25 AMWhich leads me to my proposal:

In this country, we spend 1.7 billion (or we did in 2012. It is higher now.) (and that number is just what we pay to the companies – it does not count the labor hours we spend to get the kids ready to take those tests, or the labor hours needed to re-test the kids who fail) on tests that do not give an accurate or clear or even coherent view into the landscape of a student’s learning. The only thing a test demonstrates is a student’s ability to take a test. That is it. Which means that we are spending a heck of a lot of money getting information on our kids that is, ultimately, useless. How often do you use your ability to do well on a test? Personally, I never do. So why are we doing it.

Now, I know that representatives from these companies have done an excellent job convincing you of their worth. And these representatives are well-spoken and well-dressed and well-heeled. They have shiny shoes and pressed suits and statement necklaces and polished teeth. Wide chins. A sharky look about the eye. I have met these people too. I have also smiled and nodded. I know that when they explain why their 35 million dollar test was riddled with errors, it sounded vaguely reasonable, and you left the room thinking that the teachers were somehow responsible or complicit.

I get it. These people are good at what they do. They just are wrong.

The best assessment tool for a child’s learning is from one source: the child’s teacher. They are the professionals. They are the experts.

So. Given that landscape, why don’t we try a different approach. We don’t have to do it forever – I’d never suggest something so hasty! Instead, we can try an experiment: let us, for a period of one year, refrain from testing. Just one year. All across the country. And let’s investigate what else we could do with that extra time and extra money.

And then let’s see, after the one year period expires, if the current testing regime continues to make sense.

Imagine what we could do with 1.7 billion extra dollars for that one year. Imagine what the kids could learn with that extra time.

We could buy 1.7 billion dollars worth of books.

We could increase spending on school nutrition programs.

We could hire more teachers and de-crowd the classrooms.

We could hire some librarians.

Hell, we could build some libraries.

We could take the kids out on a field trip to a museum or a nature area.

We could hire more counselors. Or social workers. Or nurses.

We could enrich the classrooms.

We could take the month that it takes for test prep and do a unit on Pablo Neruda. Or string theory. Or computer programming. Or robotics.

Just one year. Then we can go back to overspending on tests and getting nothing in return. But oh! Just think of what it would mean to our kids to have one year to just focus on their learning! Just think of what it would be like for the teachers to have the freedom and professional responsibility to actually teach! Just think of what we could do with that year and with that money. It warms the heart to think about it.

And that is what I am asking, ladies and gentlemen. I am asking you to think about it.

Yours in Solidarity and Learning,

Kelly Barnhill.