This was the question (paraphrased):
What assessment will you use to help you choose materials for your class?
When I heard it, I wondered how I would answer it. I also wondered what the question implied.
I think the intention of the question was to get a new teacher candidate to think about how to assess varying reading levels of students in order to choose appropriate materials, but I’m not quite sure.
I have heard the word assessment in a variety of contexts in our district a lot in the last couple of years. I used to think it was a new, less emotionally crippling word than “test,” which can, by its very utterance, push anxiety ridden students to the edge. But now I think the word assessment means much more. I’m just not sure what it always means.
The question was compelling for a couple of reasons, but the first thing it made me think of was that there may actually be a test that could be administered to let a teacher know what materials to select for a class, and that, somehow, disturbs me.
The question was the seed for a wild notion in my overactive imagination. I imagined a government/corporate conspiracy where teachers are just embodied voices, symbols really, channeling pre-designed curriculum, using pre-made assessments, handing out provided materials, all of course chosen for some larger purpose. That of course is ridiculous, right?
I have, over the last ten years or so, worried that the role of the imaginative, creative, thinking teacher has been diminished nearly to the point of irrelevance. And the implication of a test to tell me what to teach only amplified that fear. How do I choose materials for my class, after all? How do I assess the situation?
I want to think that the relationships I develop with my students help me know what is right for them. I want to think that my knowledge, expertise, and experience help me know what will work and won’t work for my students.
And yet I recognize that all of that takes time. It takes time to get to know my students, especially my freshmen, who are all new to our school. I takes time for me as a teacher to become experienced. What about new teachers? It takes time for us to all learn how to learn together. Maybe some students cannot afford all this time.
Our student population is less and less homogeneous all the time, in terms of their ability to learn. We have students entering ninth grade who read at a 12th grade level or beyond and some who struggle to read at a 4th grade level. How do I manage that?
The truth is, even if there were a test to tell me which book is best for a particular student, I would still need to make daily choices about how to connect with him or her. When I recognize frustration, disappointment, and struggle, I must decide how to manage it. I must decide the next step, the best way to make things better. And all of this takes time.
But that is the art of teaching, the art of assessing the situation. And that human interaction, that human connection is why teachers can never be irrelevant and why no test can tell me as much as I need to know about my students.