Yes, a pretty bold statement, but one I think I need to get out. Yesterday I experienced perhaps the most stressful hour of my math career. I gave my grade 1/2 students a "paper test". That's right, just as you read, a paper test. What an epic fail!
Let me back track for a minute. I am a part of a great opportunity within my school to work with a grade level team (me + 2 others, so not a huge team!) to do a student work study work with a focus on mathematics. We met last week to discuss the vision and path we wanted to take and thus, created a pre-test for students to complete as a starting off point.
Fast-forward to yesterday. I feverishly worked through my lunch hour to prepare the small packages of manipulatives and paper test for each student and then gathered everyone up at the beginning of our usually exciting math class. Students were excited asking what we were going to learn today until I calmed them down and started my explanation. I started out with what we were going to be doing today was not going to be something that was going to be marked for their report card and that it was something that was very different than we are used to having. I pulled out a package with the manipulatives and the paper and immediately there were hands in the air asking 1,000 questions. I went over each question one by one and I could see some confidence in their eyes still, so there was hope in my heart too. I was holding onto that hope because I knew that we had done each of the questions in isolation before, but never in this format. I sent each student away with their package and almost instantaneously everyone's stress levels rose through the roof. Because it was a pre-test for the work study, I could not give direct explanations as to what I was looking for in each question. I read and re-read each question what felt like 100 times to try and ease their anxiety of having this paper in front of them. All of this brought be back to my EQAO days, minus the age of the kids.
With a quick glance at "the paper" and their faces when each child handed in their work, I knew I had just destroyed them. They looked discouraged, defeated, confused and unmotivated. This crushed me. I also knew that they could answer each of those questions had I asked for a verbal response or been able to give them a marker and a piece of chart paper. I felt deflated as a teacher. What had I put my students through and how can I make it easier for them?
All of this to say, I hate paper. My students are used to manipulating, drawing, collaborating and discussing their ideas and learning that when I put a piece of paper, better known as the "test" in front of them, they have no clue how to handle it. I felt so frustrated with their outcomes and sad towards how they felt they did. I shared these feelings with my principal and she reminded me that it's not a bad thing that they didn't know what to do and that there are some students that had I put the same paper in front of them would have eaten it right up and known exactly what to do because that's all they know. All they know are worksheets. All my students know is manipulating, discussing and collaborating.
Today we're going back to our manipulating and active learning. There won't be another "paper" until the post-test comes up in a month from now. Until then, I'll be making it up to my students with snap cube & pattern block free time!