Spring Break

Ahhhhhh, spring break! My spring break was this past week and we return to the classroom on Monday with the countdown to summer in everyone’s minds. I didn’t go anywhere this break, so I was committed to getting caught up on all my schoolwork. What I realized this spring break is how much work and time I put into my job! Now, I’ve certainly understood the amount of time and energy that have gone into teaching before this week, but I think this week of work really drove the point home since I was committed to getting fully caught up this week with everything-lessons, grading, emails, miscellaneous other items. I worked pretty much all day Monday, Tuesday morning, and then about an hour or so Wednesday-Friday to get everything done. That is a pretty ridiculous amount of work to do during what was supposed to be my break! Ha!

I don’t want this post to be seen as a complaint. I guess I am just documenting the fact that teachers do most of their work outside of the classroom on their own time. This is nothing we haven’t heard before, but just one more voice to add to the mix.

What about you? How did you spend your spring break?

Tweet me @barry_christine or leave a comment here!

Building Community

The old adage, “Don’t smile until Christmas,” is definitely not adhered to in my classroom. One way I connect with my middle-school students is through humor. I have found that laughing at corny jokes together has allowed me to connect with my students. This past week was the often-dreaded April Fool’s Day. I decided to get ahead of the students this year and planned a few harmless pranks to pull on them. They went over well and we shared a few laughs together. I find humor a great way to build classroom community.

How do you build community in your classroom? Tweet me @barry_christine or leave a comment here.

An Open Letter to My Students

Please check out the following blog post written by Jessica Lifshitz of the blog Crawling Out of My Classroom.

She pens an open letter to her students about how sorry she is for what she is about to put them through during the upcoming PARCC testing.

It’s worth a read.

An Open Letter to My Students blog post

Tweet me @barry_christine or leave me a comment here.

Student and Parent’s Perspective of PARCC


I found this interesting perspective on the Huffington Post- a letter that was written from a parent and student regarding the PARCC assessment.


We have something very important in common: daughters in the seventh grade. I’ve had a feeling that our younger daughters have a lot in common too. Like my daughter Eva, your daughter appears to be a funny, smart, loving girl, who has no problem speaking her mind, showing her feelings, or tormenting her older sister.

There is, however, one important difference between them: your daughter attends private school, while Eva goes to public school. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support your decision to send your children to private school, where it is easier to keep them safe and sheltered. I would have done the same. But because she is in private school, she does not have to take Washington’s standardized test, the D.C. CAS, which means you don’t get a parent’s-eye view of the annual high-stakes tests taken by most of America’s children.

I have been watching Eva take the Massachusetts MCAS since third grade. To tell you the truth, it hasn’t been a big deal. Eva is an excellent student and an avid reader. She goes to school in a suburban district with a strong curriculum and great teachers. She doesn’t worry about the tests, and she generally scores at the highest level.

So when I saw that practice tests had been released by the PARCC consortium (which is designing the new Common Core tests for 16 states, including Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia), I though Eva would be a great test case for the test.

I should mention that my interest in PARCC is professional as well as parental. I am a literacy consultant in urban high schools, where many of my students struggle to pass the 10th grade MCAS, which is a graduation requirement in Massachusetts. I support the Common Core State Standards, which hold teachers and students across the country to high expectations for deep reading and writing. As Massachusetts moves to the new standards, I am already seeing tangible improvement in my students’ skills, as well as in the quality and rigor of Eva’s schoolwork. So I was anxious to see what these new tests would be like, and Eva was eager to try one out.

Here are a few of the things Eva said as she took the seventh grade ELA test: “These are such weird questions.” “This test is crazy.” “This is a stupid, impossible test.” “This question just is a stupid awful question. It makes no sense.”

Wouldn’t you be concerned if you heard these reactions from your daughter?

I’m sure one thing you’d wonder is whether the questions really are “weird,” “stupid,” and “awful.” We both know that seventh graders can be a tad melodramatic and slightly prone to exaggeration.

So here’s one essay prompt:

You have learned about electricity by reading two articles, “Energy Story” and “Conducting Solutions,” and viewing a video clip titled “Hands-On Science with Squishy Circuits.”In an essay, compare the purpose of the three sources. Then analyze how each source uses explanations, demonstrations, or descriptions of experiments to help accomplish its purpose. Be sure to discuss important differences and similarities between the information gained from the video and the information provided in the articles. Support your response with evidence from each source.

Eva’s comment on this question: “It’s impossible, and there’s like 15 parts.” Just as I feared, she exaggerated. There are only four parts. But take a close look at those parts. Can you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing here? And could you have done it in seventh grade?

I know a lot of seventh graders. They know how to compare and contrast, and they know how to provide evidence, but I’m quite sure that unpacking this prompt, let alone accomplishing it, would feel pretty “impossible” to most of them.

Overall, Eva felt the test was “really complicated, hard, and unclear.” And her score bears out her impression: she got ten of 45 multiple choice questions wrong. Here’s what she had to say about that: “Something is wrong. I should not be getting in the C range in this test.”

Just to be clear, Eva was not complaining about doing badly on the test; she was concerned that if the test was so difficult for her, it would be even more difficult for many of her peers, and thus would not provide an accurate picture of what seventh graders really can (and should) do.

Like your daughter, I’m sure, Eva is empathetic. She spends a lot of time helping her classmates with their work, and she was worried about them: “Doing multiple choice and a few open responses one day and an essay the other day [as in the MCAS] is totally different from doing really hard multiple choice and then doing an essay. This is hard. For me it’s faster because I’m typing [the PARCC tests are on computer, while the MCAS is paper], but for some kids it’s going to take more than a day, because writing essays is hard, and typing is hard for some of them.”

You may wonder whether a seventh grader is the best person to assess a seventh grade test. I actually think seventh graders are great people to assess the tests: they’ve been taking them for years, and they generally know what’s what,. But if you want a professional opinion, I can provide that too.

I have a Ph.D. in English, I’ve been in college and high school classrooms for over 20 years, and for much of that time I’ve trained and coached high school English teachers. I was shocked that the ninth grade test included an excerpt from Bleak House, a Dickens novel that is usually taught in college. I got seven out of 36 multiple choice questions wrong on the eleventh grade test. And I had no idea what to do with this essay prompt on the third grade test:

Old Mother West Wind and the Sandwitch both try to teach important lessons to characters in the stories. Write an essay that explains how Old Mother West Wind’s and the Sandwitch’s words and actions are important to the plots of the stories. Use what you learned about the characters to support your essay.

Would your daughter have been able to figure this out in third grade? And, more importantly, is there any reason a third grader should have to figure out an essay prompt this broad and abstract?

Just as you do, I want America’s children to learn and succeed. I want every classroom in the United States to have great teaching and a rigorous, challenging, engaging curriculum. I believe the Common Core State Standards could help make this happen.

But the standards won’t succeed if the tests used to assess them are confusing, developmentally inappropriate, and so hard that even good students can’t do well on them. Setting high standards and effectively teaching them is a fine route to success; setting children up to fail because of ineffective tests is not.

All of America’s children deserve better.






PARCC Testing

Many states have recently started administering the PARCC tests. Until recently, the Chicago Public Schools took the stand against PARCC testing and was refusing to administer the test to its 230,000 eligible students. However, CPS recently reversed this decision, likely so as not to lose precious funding, and will begin administering the tests this upcoming week. Check out the Chicago Tribune article here.

I teach at a Catholic school in Chicago, and we have not yet adopted the PARCC tests. This past week, our students in grades 1-7 completed the Terra Nova standardized testing and 8th graders took the ACT Aspire test back in November.

Is your school/district participating in the PARCC tests this year? What has the reaction been from teachers, students, and parents? 

Tweet me @barry_christine or leave me a comment. 

Technology Tools

In recent years, there has been much debate over whether laptops or tablets should be used in 1:1 classrooms and schools. I have both laptops and tablets for use at my school. I do like the portability of tablets and the quick start-up they offer. Tablets are good for practice and review with various apps. However, I have not found tablets to be completely functional for creating and producing content. Laptops offer much more functionality and more ease of use when a keyboard and mouse can be utilized.
If I had to choose, I would want my classroom to be 1:1 with laptops.

What are your thoughts? Tweet me @barry_christine or leave me a comment here!

Technology in the Classroom

The use of technology in the classroom, both by students and teachers, is often evaluated and measured by administrators. However, I believe that the use of technology should be interwoven into everything we do in the classroom. The use of technology should not be seen as a separate class or specific tools and projects that are used during certain units. Technology should be infused in every learning opportunity. Just as teachers incorporate different instructional strategies and have students show their learning in different ways, so, too, should technology use be implemented in the classroom.

What are your thoughts?
Tweet me @barry_christine or leave a comment here!