Do we long for the days when "times were simpler"? But really, were they? It seems to me like things are quite simple for us in 2020. Well...despite the effects of the pandemic.
Self-care seems to be the newest "hot button word" thrown around during this never-ending roller coaster of a year. My self-care consists of playing my guitars, ukuleles, and learning to play my deceased grandfather's fiddle. Gardening was once fun, but my garden is now dead, save three bell pepper plants that are in their second round of bloom this season. How are they even surviving this?! I had to rip everything else out during the Great Ash Fest 2020, and was too afraid to eat any of the tiny cucumbers and honeydew melons for fear of lye poisoning.
And as one of my favorite holidays gets trampled, it just raises up the grief I have that is all-consuming. I grieve for my recently passed grandmother, whom I cared for for many years. She was 97, and a huge part of my life since the day I was born. Her passing makes me miss my dad, my aunt, and grandfathers. I can remember, the day before my grandma was to travel alone to Texas (a trip she made yearly with my grandfather who had passed two months prior), and having a bursting radical idea pop into my head. I wanted to go with her. I couldn't imagine a summer without my grandmother's house as a place of solitude when my younger siblings created chaos. I called my grandma and asked her if she was willing to have me as her new travel companion. She agreed, as long as my dad (her son) agreed. As a 12 year old, who had already made this trip, and beyond, with my immediate family, I was hoping this was enough experience to allow me the venture. I think the thought of two younger siblings being vice-mommed by a pre-teen may have been in the forefront of my parents' minds as well, for I was granted the permission to explore the southern states with my nearly septagenarian companion with one caveat--I had to call them nightly.
We called ourselves Thelma and Louise (as that is my middle name) while I navigated her '84 white Caddilac Coup de Ville using a trusty ol' Rand McNally. I wrote in a journal, daily, about our adventures. At one point, I jokingly penned that my grandmother was flirting with the grocery store clerk in New Mexico. In another account, later that day, I wrote how we were trapped in our hotel room with no electrical power, unable to utilize the motel pool, due to a flash flood. My favorite entry has to be when we "got lost."
On our way out of Texas, and into New Mexico, we came upon some road construction that steered the Caddy away from our normal route. We found ourselves in a Native American reservation with beautiful views of the desert. We continued on, and eventually found a small greasy spoon for our lunchtime meal. It was dark inside. Along the south windowed wall was a row of dark pleather booths, some with tears. Dollar bills hung everywhere. Each one had writing on it. Some stated how much they loved the food and atmosphere, while others requested a phone call. The bar on the north wall was backlit with cheap top shelf liquors and a large barback who was ready for orders. Two locals nursing beers watched a small televsion above the barback's head and talked about the baseball game. This place looked a tad bit rougher than the Denny's restaurants we were known to frequent on this trip. And I felt very out of place.
After ordering, I used the road atlas and mapped out which directions we were to go when our meal was over. It was still an hour away from the main freeway, and my grandma had annoyance in her voice--not from me, as I had followed the map, but of the hours of time this had taken away from our daily drive toward home. "When we get back on the freeway, I'm gonna scream," she declared over the country tunes emitting from the jukebox.
After lunch, we continued along the drive, talking about what fun we had during our adventure. I sang along to the radio, and even read a chapter or two of "Onion John", as this was well before cell phones and apps, and I was an avid reader. When the conversation winded down, we rode in silence and listened to the sad tunes of heartache while admiring the desert. We were approaching the freeway and I was happy that we were back where rest stops would be plentiful.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!" My grandma screamed from the top of her lungs. This was not a sound I had EVER heard emit from her small frame. I looked to my left at her with my heart pounding, worried I had to grab the wheel and steer us to safety. I was concerned that my grandmother was suffering a heart attack. My blood pressure rose as she continued to scream and I searched for an answer to this unusual behavior.
"Nana, are you okay?" I asked frantically.
With a twinkle in her blue eyes, in her Oklahoman accent, and without missing a beat calmly said, "I told you I was gonna scream when we got back on the freeway."
This is one memory that epitomizes my grandma. She was sneaky. She had an amazing sense of humor and loved practical jokes. She was surprisingly humble, but proud. She was admirable in her accomplishments, but always wanted her kids and grandkids, and great-grandkids to do well for themselves. She gave me the opportunity to go to college and do better than those before me.
We took this trip again when I was 15. We had too many fun days and funny stories for me to tell here. But it was always something we talked and laughed about, even in her days just before passing. I'm so grateful to have had the luxory of knowing my Nana and spending nearly every day of my life with her. She is missed.
Tuesday, we will drive up the winding roads through the blackened hills of the lake where my family was raised. We will be in separate cars due to COVID-19. My remaining immediate family members will be six feet apart wearing masks to bury Nana next to my grandfather and my aunt in the only cemetary there. My childhood home, and Nana's old home are burned to the ground within walking distance of a quarter mile away. We will sprinkle some of my dad's ashes upon his family's graves. It is the most depressing way I can think of to spend time with my family, some of whom I haven't seen in person in months.
The grief I feel, isn't just for my grandmother. I grieve shopping, which I HATE. I grieve eating at our favorite restaurants. I grieve my son playing with his friends. I grieve for my students having to sit in front of a screen for their lessons. I grieve for my once feeling of safety and sanity. I greive for all that we are losing as a country divided. Every day I mourn the life we once had. I miss the innoncence of 2019.
Rather than stopping at each state and taking an equal amount of people, this train chooses only "the most qualified" to ride inside. Those not deemed suitable for the ride are left behind at the station. In some states, the car is full, in others, it is empty or nearly empty. The train conductor says that they choose based on ability, when in actuality, their choices are based financially.
In the book, The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future by Linda Darling-Hammond, she claims that performanceo-based testing is more important than multiple choice testing. In states like Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Hew Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wyoming, performance testing was adopted early on. "These assessment evaluate what the student can actually do, not just what they recognize, or guess, out of a list of choices."
Last week, I had the oh-so-enjoyble task of making sure my students took online reading and math tests. One student was done in a manner of two minutes. I was immediately suspicious of this student's scores. When I went into the software to see his results, they were not there. I had him share his screen. I then had to sit and make sure he completed the test. As I watched his cursor float across his screen, I noticed if there were more than two sentences in the question, he did not go back and re-read to find the correct answer. Instead, his cursor floated furiously above the answers and one was selected, seemingly, at random.
When using rigorous, state-adopted curriculum, one would assume that the state testing would reflect this type of thinking in its tests. A multiple choice test does not show what a student is thinking. And it leaves some, behind on the train platform. In school, I have never been good at multiple choice tests. I am a wordsmith. I enjoy writing essays. I will choose essay over multiple choice test any day. Essays allows me to share my thoughts and show my thinking.
But there's a catch.
I went to school in the early 80's through the late 90's. I also attended middle and high schools in one of the wealthiest towns in the state. Nearly every student at the high school had known each other since preschool. I was an outsider who lived in the country 45 minutes away by car (1hr 30min by school bus). I came from an area of "blue collars". No one in my neighborhood was college educated. Some did not make it to or through high school. And many of my friends spoke more than one language at home. We all were bussed to the wealthy town, and were educated there. We would come home exhausted from having lived through a loud, and rowdy, hour and half bus ride through winding roads. We would leave for school at 6:45am and return home at 4:15pm. We were expected to do homework and repeat. Our train barely stopped for us. Our wealthy classmates did not know the advantages they had, just by living within the city's limits. I worked extra hard to keep up with them.
Standardized, multiple choice testing CANNOT be the way we measure success. And our curriculum needs to reflect that as well.
Through my searching for articles to support my driving question, I feel like I am searching for treasure buried deep in the depths of a long, sandy beach. Like a retired man with a metal detector, I type in my search criteria, hit the enter button, hold my breath and wait for "the beep". When it hits, I see a long list of possible treasures. But while digging through the literary sand, I find few articles to take with me.
And the sandy pit is no joke. I found a book on coaching that seemed really helpful. I began perusing the chapters, kicking the sand back and forth with my feet, hoping to find something other than a bottle cap. Which led me to the search engine's version of Netflix's "you might like this because you just watched this..." where for ten minutes I dug a hole looking for anything I found remotely interesting--whether on topic or not.
So far, I haven't found the sandy treasure guru of my topic yet. I often wonder if I'm at the wrong beach, or am I just enjoying this at my leisure? I did find a book that relates to the topic in which I am interested. It's called, Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning by Loui Lord Nelson, David Rose, and Allison Posey. This book describes what UDL is, how it can be implemented, and why. The book breaks it down into easy chunks and uses quotes from actual teachers who use it. I find the book helpful and look forward to reading more.
An old article I found during my search, led me to believe that technology equity has been on people's minds for quite some time. It's called "Computer Equity in Public Education" by Lorna J. Lacina. The article says that if students are to be tech savvy, there needs to be more computers available to them, and training too. It was written in 1983. Sadly, I cannot link the article, as the link I created for it isn't working. Another dig through the sand to find a bottle cap.
What am I thinking about 21st Century Learning? That feels like a loaded baked potato with no bacon. You know, because it's 2020, and I have "Bacon Ban" on my October 2020 Bingo card.
It's AAAALLLLL about 21st Century Learning! It's a buzz word, a catch phrase, a taboo---one that will send shivers up your spine and down your neck and then through your socks to the tiniest tips of your toes. I can't get away from it. I eat it. I sleep on it. I dream of it. I work with it. I work FOR it. I learn about it. ARGH!
I enjoy teaching students how to be 21st century learners. I enjoy seeing them helping each other as we ALL navigate this technology during the middle of a pandemic, and now fires upon fires, upon FIRES! But we all need a break. My eyes hurt at 3:00 from TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME!
I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like I'm being pulled in a million directions, and everything shocks me, only for a split second. I'm in survival mode. I have family members who lost their home in August; friends who were evacuated this past week; friends who've lost their homes; friends who've lost their business, their livlihoods, and it isn't stopping.
So if we're wanting to enter students into this chaos right now, let's be gentle with them. Give them FUN 21st century learning.
School is cancelled tomorrow. I'm late writing this post. I cannot concentrate.
Sarah Magallano teaches 5th grade. She also coaches teachers on integrating art & engineering into their lesson plans.