For the past 120 days my focus at school has been the FSA Writing assessment. Now hear me out, some days I was focused on Christmas, or a student's trials, and even how to plan Apple Day; but for the most part there was more focus on writing instruction in my classroom.
I have been teaching now for 29 years! 29 groups or sets of students have graced my four walls. Students that changed my life, students that added to my life, students that added to my life, and students, who I felt, I gave life too. One student even published a book as a teenager -- what a blessing that was to see and to read! At each year, whether I was teaching first graders or fifth graders, I would always share my love of writing with them. We have written stories, endings to nursery rhymes, and even retold a few myths or fables. One group of kids wrote a new Cinderella story and it was runner up in a National Contest!! We have also written state reports, consumer reports, and I believe I have helped to research each of the 50 states. We have written letters to kids in other states and letters to deceased Presidents. WE have even written obituaries for pencils that are now "dead" due to overuse. In this process, about 20 years ago, FCAT writing assessment popped up and I was in the middle of teaching third graders.
Where did this love of written expression come from? Maybe, my folks.... I remember intercepting a handful of love letters my Dad wrote to my Mom while they were courting. I remember my Mom sitting at the counter helping my sister or brother with homework and a writing project. I remember my Mom writing that year End - 4-H Club yearbook where we wrote and wrote about each member and WHAT they had accomplished that year. ( late night deadlines!!) I also remember countless nights of daydreaming as I helped my Dad milk cows and imagining my future, my Prince Charming, and day dreaming while I was cleaning the teets of the cows! ( yes...teets!) Maybe it was all those summers when Dad would 'hit' the TV and /or rip the wires off the back of the TV and we had a summer to be outside and read and I LIVED for the paper to be delivered so I could get news! Or maybe it was the countless spelling words I had to recopy as a grade school kid -- that was writing, right?
Back to that FCAT assessment. My dear friend was teaching 4th and I remember her speaking about "how" or what can we do to get kids successful in 4th grade? Thus began a specific and strategic plan to get writing in K -- and all the way up so that by 4th grade, all she had to do is refine that writing! Sounds good - right? Easier said than done.... but I am pretty proud of what WE - as a SCHOOL - did accomplish many years ago. We were an "F" school before they published that sort of stuff in the paper and the State came in and we made some changes and slowing but progressively -- we worked and Central Elementary - where I spent 23 years of my teaching career -- moved UP the scale and even was an "A" school -- several times!! It wasn't just me...It was Teri, Rachel, Anna, Vanessa, Wendy, Kelly, Lisa, Cathie, Judy, Alisha, Alisha, Lord, Vicki, Jane, Luz, Janelle, Debbie and so many more...... About 5 years ago, the Florida DOE changed the FCAT Writes to ELA Writing Assessment and now students are assessed on their writing in Grades 4-10.
Anyway -- I started this blog speaking about my students - my 30 students took their recent assessment almost two weeks ago. The probably don't remember what they read about nor what they wrote about. They are not to speak about it, as it is a secure test -- but each of our students did their best -- you could see it as they read and reread and then planned and wrote! Now -- as they are scored, we will get scores as to "how" they did and yet we won't see that paper, but just get a score.
I felt an immediate release of STRESS the day after that assessment. As if all the students do well or better than the previous year, I will get some accolades... but if they don't.... who gets blamed? Me?
Not really, but it is considered. Truly I believe a person's writing ability is connected with their reading ability and their home, their environment, and their 'love' to express. I prayed over their pencils, I prayed over their desks that morning, and I made sure that all of them had a note of encouragement to read when they walked in the door! Now, I also prayed that each child would understand their worth DOES NOT come from a test score ....but from their IDENTITY in HIM!
Anyway, as I wrap this up -- a BIG thank you to the parents who did their TOP Secret assignments! I wish I could of recorded some of the expressions and comments when they opened Your letter and smiled! To all the K-4th grade teachers that taught each one of my current 5th graders -- thank you. Your influence in them was apparent! to the students - thank you for honoring what we had practiced and practiced. I saw you "thieving" and I saw you read, plan, write, and several went back to revise. yeah!! Amen. I have no idea of WHAT you wrote as I am not allowed to read them but as I walked around, I watched you work and work your best!! Thanks. To all the other writing teachers out there that are probably reviewing a little extra math in that writing time as in 3 weeks we will be doing the same thing - testing but with another subject!! But thank you -- for doing YOUR best to prepare Your students for this BIG assessment. I pray your self - worth does not come from your test scores but from HIM. I pray that as we wrap up the last 55+ days -- that writing will be a pleasure for you and your students!
And Lord, thank you for this gift of writing -- it helps me so - I pray this blog helps another.