Tuesday, January 25, 2011

back with those frequently asked questions

We just finished a long interview with a reporter from the Marin Independent Journal in anticipation of this Thursday's premiere of AUGUST TO JUNE at the Rafael Theater. He asked many good questions. I think we did a pretty good job of answering them, too! There are a couple of themes that come up just about every time: "If you don't use standardized tests to evaluate progress, how do you know that your students are learning?" and "Could what you show happen in other settings?"

To the first we answer that there are many excellent ways to assess student learning that don't involve high stakes standardized tests. Hopefully watching AUGUST TO JUNE a viewer will see that when teaching is individualized the teacher can constantly evaluate whether the child is gaining understanding.

One of the benefits of the research I did as we edited the film was being able to create a resource page for teachers and parents. Those resources often lead to sites that have developed effective assessment tools. Some help a teacher hone his or her skills of observation so she/he can note progress and make informed judgments about what areas to address next with a given child. Others allow parents and "outsiders" to understand what a child has accomplished.

Of course the film is meant to challenge the narrowing that high stakes testing has engendered. There is no question that many teachers now teach to the test, perhaps because they have been convinced it is positive for students, but often because they have been sternly told that their employment depends on sticking to the program whether they see it as benefiting their students or not.

To the second question we respond that public schools where a broad and meaningful education is both the goal and the reality exist in a wide range of communities across the US, such as the ones we show at the end of the film. While I was amazed at the similarities I found, there were also many differences. I want to compare it to friendships. Some are loud, full of joking around, others hardly involve words. The thing that counts is that the two people gain beyond measure from each others company. I say several times in the film that there is no one right way to teach, and the schools we highlight reflect that. People looking for meaningful education are not asked to emulate our techniques, or our philosophy. They are asked to find their own ways to engage not only a child's intellect, but to respectfully help him grow socially, emotionally and creatively. In one case it will be a quiet orderly classroom, in another a bustling one, and there are as many different ways as there are creative teachers!

Our point in showing a public school going a different direction is to raise the question: Have you considered what goals you have for your students and our society beyond test scores? Is what is happening in your child's classroom meeting those goals? If not, what are the ways that fit your community to change that? If parents and teachers unite to demand those changes, they will get them.

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