Not Assessable (Or Is it?) by Patrick Andrus
As I sit on my porch reflecting on the last 172 days, I seem to be “stuck” in thought about the state of education and where we currently are in the realm of assessment.
In my district, the “focus” seems to be the MCA (Minnesota Comprehension Assessment) and other district testing. We are data and score driven. I often find myself stressed, focused, and consumed by how my readers will perform on the “TEST”.
My readers have grown by measures that are not assessable. I don’t have a score, data point, or graph to prove this; but I know in my mind, and heart; that my students have become life-long passionate readers.
The read aloud year began with Nine, Ten, A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. We took our time. We read slowly. We talked. We thought. Nora’s story was written so that ten-year olds could comprehend. Logan went home and talked about the book with his family. His parents shared with him that a family member had been in the tower that day. The story became all the more real to Logan. He not only made a personal connection to the book, but had the opportunity to speak with Nora and share his story. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
For our first “Breakfast with Books” book club, the talented and personable Erin Soderberg joined us to chat about The Quirks: Welcome to Normal. The readers were getting the chance to meet and talk with a “real live” author. At first they seemed a bit nervous. Erin put them at ease. The girls loved her “funky” style. We loved listening to her talk about her life, kids, and of course the book. Erin made a joke about the juice in the cups that the students were placing on the floor. It wasn’t more than a few minutes later and we had the first spill. She told Sophia that she earned the award for first “spill” of the year. We laughed. I knew Sophia, along with other members, was validated as a person, a reader, and above all; a human. Each following book club, the “spill” was mentioned. My biggest learning: have readers bring in juice boxes. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Our second book club selection was Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde. When I announced the selection, Isabella stated “I’m not reading if the dog dies.” She shared she couldn’t handle those stories. She stayed with her belief for a week, but as kids started reading and sharing; she came up to me and said; “I think I would like to try it.” Isabella shared it was one of her favorite books and was glad that Lynn told the reader on page one that Maxi would die. It helped her prepare. Isabella took a risk as a reader and grew. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Abby Cooper visited after we finished our second read aloud Sticks and Stones. As we chatted with Abby, I could tell students were in awe. Here was a young author that had worked her tail off. She shared the message of hard work and not ever giving up. I could see in the eyes that they “got it”.
Abby left us her ARC called Bubbles (released this summer). She read us the first chapter. Bubbles went on to become our favorite read aloud of the year. We were thrilled when Abby made a return visit. Even though it was only two occasions, I could tell fourth graders were making a REAL connection to Abby. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
We mixed things up a bit for the third “Breakfast with Books” and invited Phil Bildner, author of A Whole New Ballgame to join us. I knew I had reached female readers, but this time around it was about two boys in particular. They both had started earlier books, but didn’t finish. When I introduced this novel, they were all over it. They read the story together. Their trailer included a recreated “Boo Ya” handshake. When Phil appeared on screen; the boys were meeting a “book” star. The novel hooked them for the rest of the book clubs. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan joined us when the book club read Save Me A Seat. We enjoyed listening to how they were able to write together. It was the first time my students learned that a story can be written by two. Eliana and Kaitlyn decided they were going to write a story together. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Sally, a thoughtful reader, was able to share with Barbara O’Connor, author of Wish, how she related to Charlie. Sally told Barbara that she also gets angry like Charlie. It was one of the most personal moments I have witnessed between author and reader. Barbara was kind, patient, and engaging. This was the “moment” when I knew the book club was providing my readers more than I could ever imagine. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
After sharing Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz, we were able to have a wonderful discussion about personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. One boy struggles with issues similar to OCD, and connected to Molly’s story. He shared his story with Elly; while she validated him. Elly had a personality that jumped off the screen. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart was our number one “Breakfast with Books” selection. Readers were mesmerized. They ate up the suspense, mystery, and intrigue. Readers read the story faster and couldn’t put it down. We discussed about how this is a sign of a “great” book. This time around it wasn’t so much about the “plot”, but the experience of reading. It was an exciting and palpable month of reading. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
We “captured” Lauren Wolk during her work day while she sat outside her office. We finished Wolf Hollow during our historical fiction unit. The readers got a kick out of the fact that Lauren had to move locations because of construction. We were learning that authors are real people with real lives. Lauren was incredible because on several occasions, she turned the question back on the student. I could see in their faces; they were honored to be asked. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
Ali Standish, author of The Ethan I Was Before, gave us a heart-felt story about friendship and loss. It was a difficult story for students to read. They were able to ask important questions about “loss”. The book changed the readers and brought them to a new level. We matured because of Ethan. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
The “author of the year” has to be Nora Raleigh Baskin. Not only did we Skype with her in the fall and chat in person when she made a surprise visit; but we had a second Skype after we finished Anything But Typical. Nora remembered many of the children and treated them with the utmost respect. She shared a personal story while sharing her heart. Nora changed readers for the better. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
We spent time with funny, personable, and energetic author; John David Anderson, author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day. The class was enthralled with his advice for life, love of salted caramels, and life experiences. A couple readers had tough questions. I know they were surprised by his honesty and truth. It was a side of authors we normally hadn’t seen. Aneira had a great interaction about some of the choices he made as an author and how she responded as a reader. It was rewarding to see her have the courage to ask these questions. I could see the “light bulb” shining bright. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
The book club wrapped up with Holly M. McGhee, author of Matylda, Bright & Tender. We were the first class she Skyped with. After the Q & A, Holly shared her gecko. The enthralled kids crowded around the screen. Combine an author, gecko and group of fourth graders and you have a unique experience. “Not assessable”. Or is it?
I’m not sure where the state of education will go, but one thing I do know for sure is that these authors have had a profound impact on young readers. These experiences may be measured on a state and/or district assessment, but will have a far lasting reach that will carry students through the rest of their lives as life-long, passionate readers.
Patrick Andrus is a fourth grade teacher in Eden Prairie, MN. His number one goal for his students is to create an internal passion for reading and books. He makes it a daily habit of visiting the Nerdy Book Club Site. Patrick is beyond thrilled to have this be his ninth post on the site. He will be attending #NerdCampMI for the second time this summer. You can find his blog by visiting http://readwonder.blogspot.com. He is also an active member on Twitter as @patrickontwit.
Patrick, you’re doing amazing work with your readers! How lucky are we to find authors who are willing to talk to our students and make such personal connections with them! Bravo!
Thank you Melanie!
I love this! You really touch on something so important. In my state (NJ), teachers are partially reviewed based on PARCC test scores. As a parent, having formerly worked in education, and as a future children’s librarian, I recognize how this much undue pressure this need to constantly assess places on everyone involved. Self-discovery, making connections with others – even fictional characters – and developing empathy THROUGH READING…currently not “assessable” in our public school system, at least by current state and administrative measures. Another critical yet overlooked gift of childhood reading: character education. Children learn how to be kind, to look at the people around them through more compassionate lenses, to persevere, to persist, and to be honest and truthful. These kinds of traits are not measured, yet they’re absolutely essential to a meaningful life. Thank you so much for this!
I love all the stories here. Now, if only reading aloud replaced testing, children would learn and thrive.
Yes! Someday I hope!
Love this and proud to be included. Thank you.
Great question–what is assessable? Can we assess heart and passion and empathy and purpose and inspiration and so many other intangibles? I’m not sure we’d want to even if we could. The reasons you and others teach, Patrick, are intangible too . . . care, passion, purpose for starters. These brief stories are more than evidence that YOU are making a difference, that what you do matters, that books matter, that talking about books and with authors matters. No student will ever say, “I loved fourth grade because I scored X on my reading test.” But a student far into the future might very well say, “I loved fourth grade because that’s when I learned to love reading–and I still do!” Thanks for sharing these stories, for sharing your students with us authors, and mostly for making a difference day after day after day! ❤️
Thank you Lynn for these kind words.
Fantastic post, my friend. You are making a huge difference in the lives of so many students. Proud to know you and learn with you every day.
Thanks my friend!
Wow, what a great opportunity for your students you’ve created by getting authors to visit your classroom. You are such an amazing teacher and role model for promoting literacy and love of reading!
“Breakfast with Books” – this sounds awesome! What is BwB?! Love and hate relationship with this post…Love your thinking and doing, hate reminded of stupid state testing and its influence!
I want to be in your class!
I love how you’ve lasso-ed the power of technology to connect kids to authors. Authors are hungry for those connections.
That is awesome! I bet the kids love all of that! 🙂
I finally got around to reading this and I’m so glad that I did! Your passion for reading is obvious! Do you have a post on your blog about your Breakfast with Books club? Would love to hear more about it!