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As I initiated my career in becoming a professional educator, I started to notice a trend that many teachers are doing in order to meet the needs of accountability. However, the question arises: Are we teaching to the test or are we teaching using effective, metacognitive teaching strategies that yield the same result? Ever since the No Child Left behind Act, teachers have become accountable for what they teach students due to mandated state testing. This leads to teach in a manner that puts the focus of education on their students' test scores instead of the students' actually individual needs as a learner. I stand to argue that both are important but is one more significant than the other when it comes to success? I think so, as testing is in the foreground and students are push to the back. Nevertheless, I think there is a way teachers can create a balance between the two. We can teach and offer authentic learning in which students' are learning information they need to do well on standardized test yet at the same time we are teaching them moral and ethical mannerisms, as well as promoting higher order thinking skills.
While learning to be a professional educator, professors stress the best practices and strategies for teachers to use that help them focus on the curriculum and avoid 'teaching to the test'. While investigating why such practices should be used, I found research that supports both means of educating children. Many professionals argue towards the test while many argue against it. Hence, I mold my philosophy of teaching around what teachers can do to employ both teaching for state testing, as well as, bringing the focus back to the students, thus, teaching in a manner that leads the ideas of state testing but also to the students and their needs as individuals. Most all teachers became teachers for the passion and concern they have burning inside of them for children, a passion to foster children in growing as individuals and most importantly, fostering and building children's ideals of success in life. I will not argue that The No Child Left Behind Act has brought structure and day-to-day organization towards teaching, as well as opportunities for teachers to grow professionally through workshops, but that the emphasis of teacher accountability works against the focus of education: students. I believe that teachers should not feel like they are required to attend professional development seminars and workshops, yet that burning desire and passion inside should be the reason for wanting and needed to grow as a professional,. Yet still, most teachers don't seek growth, hence the stakes have been changed for everyone.
My argument is simplistic in that as we each are diverse in our own characteristics, so is the classroom. Dr. Elizabeth Beavers has guided me in developing individual ideas that, each child has individual needs and methods in which knowledge can be obtained and comprehended, thus the atmosphere should offer them ought to be as diverse as the individual. To meet the needs of each individual, we should teach to each child in a manner that will encourage all learners to feel proficient and successful. By means of presenting curriculum that is tailored to involve and gain interest of the children, learning can become more relevant to real-life. In determination of encouraging an active atmosphere, incorporation of thematic and integrated units across content areas, cooperative learning through individual and group cooperation, and hands-on learning should be used. Through the use of these strategies, teachers can connect what students have or will learn, into the world beyond the classroom, hence, assisting students in becoming caring and dynamic individuals with in society. (Borich 2007)
"It should our desire as educators to help students meet their fullest potential in growing emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially by providing an environment that is safe, supports risk-taking, and invites a sharing of ideas. There are three elements that I have found that are conducive to establishing such an environment, (1) the teacher acting as a guide, (2) allowing the child's natural curiosity to direct his/her learning, and (3) promoting respect for all things and all people."(Salisbury 2009)
When the teacher acts as a guide, providing contact to information rather than performing as the major foundation of information, the students' exploration for knowledge can be met as they learn to find the solutions to their problems. "In order for students to construct and build their knowledge, we need to give them the chance to make discoveries for themselves and foster them in using authentic situations. Offering students opportunities to use hands-on activities and providing them with the time and space they need to use materials from the lesson or to reinforce the lesson, creates an opportunity for individual discovery and construction of knowledge to occur. Similarly important to own discovery is the opportunity to study things that are meaningful and relevant to one's life and interests. Developing a curriculum around student interests fosters key motivation and encourages the passion to learn. When students feel like they are a part of the curriculum, they are motivated to work hard and master the skills necessary to reach their goal, thus implementing authentic pedagogy." (Salisbury 2009)
So, I know you're asking, 'Where's the research to back up all of this?' Well, "Newmann et al. (1996) measured how well 24 restructured schools implemented "authentic pedagogy" and "authentic academic performance" approaches in mathematics and social studies. Students with high levels of authentic pedagogy and performance made substantial test gains on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, whether they were high- or low achieving students. Another significant finding was that the inequalities between high- and low-performing students were greatly decreased when normally low- performing students used authentic pedagogy and performance strategies and assessments." (Wiggins 2007)
Hence, we as teachers need to put the focus back on the students and offer them the best tools for learning that we can. We need to take what we learn during professional development and apply concepts into our classrooms. And not only do we need to keep up with professional development when we are required by the state to do so, we should conduct and invest time in doing our own research for development. Ultimately, my argument suggests that by building off the ideas of successful, effective learning environments and promoting metacognitive processes within our students, as well as tailoring curriculum to meet both local standards and our own standards, we as teachers can teach without the stress of the test being on our backs. Effective teachers and learning environments should promote depth of knowledge through strategic questioning and planning as well as implementing strategies that meet the needs of the students, not the needs of the test. The 'test' is simply a local assessment, thus If our individual goals and assessments use authentic pedagogy, the 'big test' will yield the authentic information that our students have been taught.