The children have been out of school for about two weeks now, but my summer is just getting started. This is the first summer since I began teaching that I haven't taught summer school. I just got so antsy for something new during the spring semester that I decided I would spend the month of June working with grownups instead of children. It's been interesting. Since school let out so late this year due to a very snowy and icy winter, there really wasn't even a glimpse of summertime before we started completing professional development to get ready for next year. Our middle school is going to a more interdisciplinary model next year, and I'm so excited about the literacy connections and cross-curricular teaming we'll be doing next year in seventh grade! I work with some truly awesome, open-minded educators. After a day of interdisciplinary productive struggle, our middle school English department met the next day to explore PARCC.
We decided the best way to begin the day was to take a PARCC practice test on the website. Here's what's funny about my teaching so far. After my first year of teaching, I knew I would have to basically start from scratch in order to implement Common Core. But after last year, I just knew that this summer would be a breeze!! We'd be able to keep most of the curriculum and materials we created in place! All of our hard work would be so worth it when our English department was lounging by the pool all summer this year! Then, we took a PARCC test. I know that the purpose of CCSS and PARCC is to increase rigor and prepare students for college, and after taking the test, I definitely think that's what it does. I also think we're going to see a pretty significant implementation dip in test scores. All I can say it, that test is hard, ya'll. Our students have never written literary analysis essays in seventh grade before because, honestly, who writes literary analysis essays in seventh grade? In many respects, middle school English will essentially become a writing class to prepare students for college and career readiness (and to prepare them not have a panic attack when they take their first PARCC assessment).
After my initial panic subsided regarding how I will shepherd my students toward a mind space where they can all not only identify tone in two poems but also write a coherent essay comparing the tone of the two poems and explaining how figurative language contributes to the tone, I took a deep breath and decided that, ultimately, it's all going to be alright. I really do believe that my students need to know how to write an analytical essay. They need to be critical thinkers and writers. They need to be able to analyze literature and argument and research in order to succeed in a college classroom and in life. Ok, maybe they won't need to analyze literature to succeed in life, but they'll definitely have to be able to do it to pass freshman lit class. I'm always up for a new challenge, and this, apparently, is my new challenge.
The thing that inspired me most during this somewhat stressful two days of planning for PARCC was the fact that no one on my team really freaked out. Sure, we all got a little stressed and questioned how this increased academic rigor would play out in our classrooms. How will analytical writing look in SPED classes? inclusion classes? Pre-AP? How can we scaffold this skill for students who are struggling to write a paragraph? what about students who struggle to write a complete sentence? These are all valid questions and we're still trying to figure out the answers. But what I love so much about the awesome ladies I work with is that no one threw up her hands and said, "This is impossible! My students could never do this! This test is too hard!" Instead, everyone took a "how can we make this work attitude." I think that says a lot about our school culture and the high expectations we hold for the kids we teach.
So I am telling you the story of how we panicked, got over it, and got to work for two reasons. First, because if you are a teacher, I encourage you to take a PARCC test, no matter what content area you teach. It's going to take a unified, whole-school approach for students to succeed. Second, I hope you'll learn from our stress, skip that part, and go straight to the part where you figure out how to make this work for your students. Even though it seems overwhelming, these are necessary skills, and I know that if students receive quality instruction in these skills beginning in middle school, they will be more prepared for college.
Finally, I hope your summer is off to a fantastic start! Hopefully, I'll be basking in the glow of summer break soon, too.