Thursday, November 20, 2014

Get Out

Just yesterday I was talking to two colleagues about the prospects of administering yet one more universal test for yet one more data point. "Fortunately the pendulum seems to be swinging away from this insanity," I said.

"You know how education is," another teacher said. "This has been going on for, what, about ten years? It's going to be something new, soon."

"What do you think that will be?" asked the third of us.

There were shrugs all around, but at some point in the conversation we came up with what we thought was the exact opposite of the now in schools across our country. "Experiential education?" someone suggested. "Where the kids actually get to do things?"

We laughed, but it was definitely rueful. Back when this testing trend started, I never believed I'd be at a school or in a system where field trips were considered, at best, unnecessary, and at worst, detrimental, but that's definitely the climate I'm teaching in now. While every sixth grader is soon to have an iPad, our bus budget has been slashed so that if we want to take more than one trip a year, we will have to charge the students for transportation.

Today happened to be the day of our only field trip this year. We took the students to a local nature center where they participated in a program about energy. The visit involved walking through a community garden that had been winterized, and seeing the rescued raptors (a red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, and two barred owls). As we ate our lunch, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and titmice flocked to the feeders just outside the window, and two deer grazed at the edge of the woods below us.

All the students showed some interest in what they were seeing and hearing about, but one girl in particular sought me out and sat next to me at lunch. She is a very nice kid, but often distracted and silly in my class. Her grades are mediocre and below, mostly because she doesn't get her work done. When you talk to her about it, she agrees good-naturedly to try to do better, but academic success seems like a low priority.

Today she was animated and engaged. She loved the raptors, was fascinated by the deer and the other birds, and had something relevant to say about every exhibit. As she chattered excitedly at lunch about everything we'd seen so far, I hardly recognized her as the child who usually sits so passively in my room.

Her test scores are low compared to those of her peers, and it's a cliche to point out that they don't tell the whole story. But that part of the story that data leaves untold may be best discovered away from the traditional classroom, and we'll never know what it is if we don't get out there.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe Waldorf schools should fall under the Experiential education label. I'm sorry to tell you, but my son goes on a nature field trip THREE TIMES a week. Rain, snow, or shine! Poor starved PS kids. First food restrictions, now air restrictions. What next, learning itubes?