Making Things Meaningful

The Girl got an honor at her school’s Academic Awards Night, so I spent the better part of two hours Tuesday evening watching a rather different approach to academic awards from the one I usually see.  For one thing, her school’s awards program is at night; it’s easier for families to attend, and there’s no issue of “bad, lazy ones” sitting for hours to watch a program in which they won’t be participating.  There were some meaningful touches, too; for example, graduating seniors who receive Special Cords for their academic program get to choose the teacher by whom they “will be corded.”  But I was struck by the number of awards recipients who didn’t come.  Names were called, scholarship presentations were scheduled, but no one came forward.

It’s a busy time of year, of course, and many of those seniors have jobs and other obligations in the evenings.  And many families do, too … or they value their few precious hours at home more than they value an evening at the Local School, a Special Cord that will hang in a closet, or a Special Certificate that needs to be framed and hung up somewhere.  Making things meaningful is the key, of course, but how do you go about making things meaningful for a bewilderingly diverse community?

It had been a long, tiring day, the first day of final exams in These Parts.  Judging by the oral responses I heard from the beginning branch of the Latin Family, the scores will be good.  Almost everyone was clustered in the Novice High to Intermediate Low range of interpretive proficiency on the ACTFL scale, and many of us had made significant progress in the four weeks or so since our last Major Assessment response.  But everyone was tired … so very tired … and I don’t know if the afternoon “review session” helped anybody or not.  N had been absent on Monday, and she came to me Tuesday morning very concerned about what she’d missed … and to her credit, she and U, who was also out on Monday, did some work on those Rotating Review stations.  C had to go receive a Disciplinary Consequence for something, but she also completed the Rotating Review and even did some work on our last Collaborative Review Activity.

We’ll see what happens with the intermediate branch of the family as they take their exams today.

It really wasn’t a bad day; in fact, as I look back at what I’ve written, it looks like a good and successful day.  But I woke up in the middle of the night with a heavy heart, and I had trouble getting back to sleep.  Part of it is “just stuff,” I know, and part of it is the time of year.  But part of it was because making things meaningful is so important to me, but so hard to do when the focus is on exams and scores, numbers and data.

A few years ago, the Great Big Important State Tests (and other final exams) got temporarily moved a week or so earlier in the school year.  The idea was to allow time for remediation and retesting.  I’m not sure how successful that was in the grand scheme, but for the Latin Family, it did allow some post-exam class days for meaningful conversations and a culminating activity that didn’t feel like a Great Big Test.  Now that exams have returned to the Last Few Days, the remediation and retesting eliminated in the name of Rigorous Standards, it’s a lot easier for Ms. X and Mr. Y.  They don’t have to find as many “cute little activities” for their exhausted, overtested students, and there’s less need for yelling and labeling or scolding and threatening when those exhausted students don’t “get motivated” to do those activities.  I gather that in some places, exam days are half-days for students; I know that at some schools in the Local District, students are allowed or encouraged to check out of school after the morning’s Great Big Test.  But in the name of Rigorous Standards, we fill the afternoon with Review Sessions for the next day’s tests.  And “the ones who really need it” (from Ms. X and Mr. Y’s perspectives) still get their parents to check them out of school, and Ms. X and Mr. Y get angry and get frustrated and get scared about what Those Scores will do to My Evaluation in future years.

Are we making it meaningful?  Are we helping anybody?  I don’t know.

At one point today, I’ll see the class who took their exams yesterday … because that’s what The Schedule says.  We’ll be following an old Latin Family tradition called the Aranea Verborum, where pairs or groups make word webs that include as many connections as possible among words they’ve learned this year.  I hope it will be meaningful, even enjoyable, for everyone who’s there.  If we all have energy, we’ll do an Embodied Role Play the next time we meet, and that might possibly lead to inspiration for future Tres Columnae Project stories.  If classes meet on the Very Last Day (sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t), we’ll follow an old tradition of a Socratic Seminar about heroes, using Joseph Campbell’s framework as a lens to examine the core Tres Columnae characters, our favorite films, and our own lives.

Will we be making it meaningful?  I hope so!

It’s a hard time of year for teachers and learners everywhere, harder when the factory-model pressure for making those numbers seems so much more important than making it meaningful or making it personal.   But even in dark, scary times, there are still beacons of hope.  I think back to Tuesday evening, to the hugs and tears as students got “corded” (and hugged) by teachers they’d chosen for that honor.  And I realize that joyful learning communities can form and grow even in the most challenging environments.

I wonder what new insights and discoveries await us all today!

Published in: on June 4, 2014 at 10:40 am  Leave a Comment  

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