On Being Judged in Our Classrooms – 4

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10 thoughts on “On Being Judged in Our Classrooms – 4”

  1. This is the coolest series of posts. High stakes, biannual observations serve as a stark reminder of the pain of high stakes evaluations.

    We feel “test anxiety” like the kids do.

    Awww… But I love Ben’s description of how play breaks down the “I’m judging you” tone -for teachers and student assessment. If the principal goes out of their way to join in the fun, we’ll take their feedback better and stand on more respectful ground. Isn’t it sad that just making human connections or “play” in our assessment practices seems radical?

    This series of posts on being evaluated were so relatable.

    The real source of angst about judgements is when there is a checklist of “stuff to do” (teacher evaluations) or “stuff to know” (HFWs, themes, grammar for students). There is so much more that we want people evaluating us to see- things we know and do that aren’t on the list —as well as items that don’t apply to our situation –that we’re penalized for.
    Teachers (and students) feel like what we know and what we think doesn’t matter if it’s not complaint with the items on a test/checklist.

    The “stuff to know” mentality is common with selected-response tests (true/false, multiple choice, etc) —but overworked, convoluted rubrics can turn into mere checklists. Their rigidity and singularity makes us feel misunderstood and judged unfairly. Like Lana Del Rey sings, “They judge me like a picture book by the colors, like they forgot to read.”

    What we know and do is nuanced and deserving of more conscientious, adaptive scoring. (Students deserve this too.).

    Administration should engage in the fun, adapt the evaluation in a fair way, and generally notice us in a less robotic, more human way. (Then, teachers should offer the same compassionate assessment to students.)

  2. …Isn’t it sad that just making human connections or “play” in our assessment practices seems radical?….

    This point lies, unnoticed, like a nugget of gold at the bottom of the testing haystack. Why should administrators look for the gold in our work when they have a point to prove, that they have testing cred? People running schools would rather think about how they look more than how the kids feel. Admins are all about self justification. Such a good point here. The kids play second fiddle to the need for the system to prove itself, and so they suffer that anxiety. Most just turn off. It’s all testing to them, not learning. Rats in a cage.

    1. Yes. The big tragedy is that “learning” has become synonymous with torture, boredom, testing and one-upping each other. Learning is joyful and exciting! What’s not to love about discovering and expanding one’s perspective and making connections, and dare I say having fun? What teacher has not heard students groan “Awww, do we have to LEARN stuff today?!”

      The mere mention of “learning” is now so tainted with drudgery that using this word makes students cringe with fear and terror, and just plain ole’ shut down. I get it. They are coping the best they can based on prior experience and also the general vibe of ever present danger in their lives. Fear. It has driven everyone’s nervous systems into a constant “fight / flight / freeze” state. We can change this on a cellular level with our classroom practices. We have to. So much is at stake. And there is so much potential for shift in any moment, should we choose to act.

      Go ahead and accuse me of being too “Pollyanna-ish.” I will always love learning. But the picture in my head of “learning” is not the same as the picture in the kids’ head. Heh. Or adminZ for that matter. Except I have to change my mentality around that, since I may be perpetuating the divide by engaging in “us v them” thinking. Oops! Caught myself in the act of separation. I’m envisioning my new principal in my class laughing and participating, just like she did this year when she was not officially my boss. Her comments such as “I can’t believe I just saw “male student x (a junior)” SINGING!?!” will buoy me into a new perspective, and hopefully a new relationship with my administration authority figures. I will stand my ground based on what I know to be true and right for the students’ well-being, while also opening dialogue and finding a common space in which I can comply with what is expected of me.

      1. jen this poem I read yesterday came to mind upon reading your thoughts on learning and love.


        Mohammad says,
        “I come before dawn
        to chain you and drag you off.”

        It’s amazing, and funny, that you have to be pulled away
        from being tortured, pulled out
        Into this Spring garden,
        but that’s the way it is.

        Almost everyone must be bound and dragged here.
        Only a few come on their own.

        Children have to be made to go to school at first.
        Then some of them begin to like it.
        They run to school.
        They expand with the learning.

        Later, they receive money
        Because of something they’ve learned at school,
        And they get really excited. They stay up all night,
        as watchful and alive as thieves!

        Remember the rewards you get for being obedient!

        They are two types on the Path. Those who come
        against their will, the blindly religious people, and those
        who obey out of love. The former have ulterior motives.

        They want the Midwife near, because she gives them milk.
        The others love the Beauty of the Nurse.

        The former memorize the proof-texts of conformity,
        and repeat them. The latter disappear
        into whatever draws them to God.

        Both are drawn from the Source.

        Any moving’s from the Mover.

        Any love from the Beloved.

      2. Jen, your words are precious. My middle name is Pollyanna, so I feel you. Your “learning is beautiful” attitude despite all you’ve been through is inspiring.

  3. …teachers should offer the same compassionate assessment to students….

    In fact, many of us offer quick quizzes that are so easy that they do offer that compassion, so that is one thing. Easy yes/no questions are something I have considered dropping during our months long discussion on assessment but actually those quizzes are fun celebrations while at the same time they do the necessary work, along with jGR, of feeding the machine. We can talk about this in a few weeks.

    1. Tests aren’t always bad, but we have to use them judiciously. For busy teachers, a quick quiz might be just the trick as long as we keep the assessment as authentic to the story we just told and the stakes as low as possible. There’s an excellent book, Measuring Up by Daniel Koretz, where the important testing “trade off” is explored: “…there is no optimal design. Rather, designing a testing program is an exercise in trade-offs and compromise, and a judgment about which compromise is best will depend on specifics…”

  4. Alisa Shapiro

    Ben summarized, “People running schools would rather think about how they look more than how the kids feel. Admins are all about self justification.”
    If your evaluating admin is dull and/or isn’t playful, (mine is, so yay!) perhaps we can prep him/her in the pre-observation conference (a la Danielson).
    Talking points to cover:
    1. How Language Acquisition is different from conceptual knowledge (unconscious; focus on the message; influenced by the Filter, impervious to “practice”; McDonalds junk input with pairs and small group work…), and therefore the class looks different than say, Algebra or US Government.

    2. How student engagement looks different in an SLA environment, esp for novices: nonverbal and limited verbal demonstrations of comprehension; the (Wiggins & McTighe if they insist) Overarching Essential Question being, “Do you understand the message and can you show me?”

    3. Rationale for playfulness (Really? Yeah, really.): lowering the filter, engagement is highest when Ss collaborate on/contribute the content; getting reps of meaningful and hi-frequency chunks thru scaffolded questioning.

    4. Present research on how rigorous it is for the brain to process language – for example this article (thank you Professor Google) says: [http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/11/26/new-research-shows-how-the-brain-processes-language/31895.html]
    “Advances in brain imaging made within the last 10 years have revealed that highly complex cognitive tasks such as language processing rely not only on particular regions of the cerebral cortex, but also on the white matter fiber pathways that connect them.”
    justifying an approach that doesn’t attempt to belabor this ‘highly complex cognitive task’

    5. Finally, in my experience, a fun demo of a story for the evaluating admin BEFORE THE EVAL TAKE PLACE, preferably among other school colleagues for atmosphere and cuz teachers ‘get it’ better, goes a long way in prepping him/her for your eval.

  5. And related to those points Alisa we have the posters on rigor, metacognition and the teacher and student self evaluation checklists here, which sometimes pull the attention of visitors who are in our rooms to do more than check boxes:


    (Although it’s a lot to get an admin to come in and see with both eyes open what we are doing even with those posters. Perhaps it is better to educate them in a meeting before their first visit in to our classrooms. Maybe, before the meeting, send them a Primer article or two like like these from the list of Primer hard links above:

    Robert Harrell – Harrell – Advice on Administrators

    Robert Harrell – Robert Harrell Advice on Rigor to an Embattled Teacher

    Robert Harrell – Scope and Sequence Harrell

    Robert Harrell – Traps (Eight Traps that Traditional Teachers Fall Into)

    Robert Harrell – Robert Harrell on Language Assessment Principles

    Robert Harrell – Robert Harrell on Homework

    Robert Harrell – A Philosophy of Language Instruction in High School

    Robert Harrell – Rigor US Department of State

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