Lunchtime activity to balance test prep

In a most interesting article in yesterday’s Washington Post, reporter Nelson Hernandez covered a story at a local middle school. He wrote, “Schools these days focus mostly on preparing students for tests of reading and math, but during lunchtime at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover, the youngsters sitting in a small circle were tackling the really deep questions: Ethics. Fairness. How to split dessert.”

These discussions, Hernandez stated, gave the students “an intellectual diversion from preparing for the Maryland School Assessment, the examinations in reading and math that are a near-obsession for administrators and teachers.”

Hernandez goes on to describe the lively and engaging philosophical discussions — started by forward-thinking teacher Kathy Gregory — that students get into over lunch. To me what was most interesting was this activity is seen — at the school and by the reporter– as a balance to test prep.  After reading the article (which I recommend you do), you’ll see that in an activity like this one students are gaining exactly the foundation skills they need to be successful test takers. In other words, they are learning to be calm, confident and focused. This real life training is invaluable and it carries right over into test taking.

When students come together to discuss important issues, on which they have to take a personal stance, they need exactly the skills described in The Workbook for Test Success. It’s a living example of the 3 legged stool.

One of the biggest problems with standardized state tests (like the Maryland School Assessment or the STAR test in California) is that many students find it very hard to be motivated for these tests. My guess is that engaging group activities in school, like the one described in the article, aren’t a diversion, they are building performance and achievement skills that can serve as a springboard for wanting to do well in other activities (like standardized tests).

Thank you Nelson Hernandez for writing about uplifting, nurturing stories like this one. And thank you teacher Kathy Gregory– and Kenmoor principal Maha Fadli — for supporting student growth, To read the article go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/03/AR2010010301690.html?hpid%3Dtopnews

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