Dear Neighborhood School Families,
Last week, Chancellor Carmen Farina sent a letter to principals about curriculum and test preparation that I found so heartening, I shared it with TNS staff. (I have included it at the bottom of my weekly letter for you to read, as well.) It reflects the philosophy of The Neighborhood School and our sentiment about “test prep”. We believe that children learn by making sense of their world and their experiences. They learn best through first-hand experiences with people, materials and places. Trips are an important part of our curriculum, along with the use of concrete materials, dramatizations and simulations as ways for children to recreate the themes and concepts they are studying. Children explore and make hypotheses and discoveries of their own. Teachers provide a program rich in relevant, meaningful and functional experiences. In-depth studies of themes integrate language arts, thinking, science, social studies, mathematics, physical education, and the arts. Classroom work is conducted collaboratively so that children learn to work with others cooperatively in social groupings. We help children to develop good habits of mind, to think creatively and analytically. We want our students to develop fully as individuals, and also as cooperative, responsible members of a group.
This is the first year that teachers in the testing grades at TNS have not interrupted their integrated thematic studies and the rich investigations in mathematics to do “test prep”. Instead, teachers are integrating test preparation into the curriculum in more authentic ways. And of course, our students continue to think deeply and critically about their reading and to solve challenging, complex math problems.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to do so, I hope that you will join us for another forum on 3rd, 4th and 5th grade testing. We will meet right after Sing on Wednesday in the PTA room.
We have two very important events happening this week at TNS. On Friday at 6pm, the Amazing Cardone will be performing; join us for dinner and magic. On Sunday, from 10 - 4pm we have Community Day. Please join us for this special community event; all you need to bring is your enthusiasm, energy and children! One of the projects for the day will be mounting the mural panels created by our children at the entrance of the building. In addition, Anna Craycroft, artist and educator will be our guest speaker at lunch. Anna has worked as an art teacher and consultant in grade schools throughout New York City. Since 2004, she has been a professor of art at the undergraduate and graduate levels in schools such as Columbia University, Yale University and Maryland Institute College of Art.
At TNS, we value student and family input and feedback throughout the year. However, it is at this time each year that we ask families to complete two surveys before April 11th: an official Department of Education (DOE) survey and a homegrown survey from our School Leadership Team (SLT). So far, only 11% of families have completed their DOE surveys. Please remember that DOE Surveys can be mailed or completed online. TNS surveys should be returned to Room 305 (office).
Here is the letter from the Chancellor to principals:
A few days ago, a colleague told me about a conversation she’d had recently with a principal. The principal explained that she had suggested to one of her teachers that instead of a one-time field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Bronx Zoo, which can overwhelm students, the teacher might consider a series of two or three shorter visits to allow students time to focus on one or two exhibits or key ideas and then consolidate their learning. The teacher seemed stunned; she couldn’t possibly take that time out of the classroom with tests coming up – she needed to prepare her students for them.
This exchange reminded me that test preparation in moderation is fine, but preparing for life is living it. As I visit schools and talk to principals and teachers, I often hear the same stories about how “real” teaching, engaging projects, and exciting trips are put aside to accommodate test prep. While I certainly understand the anxiety that children, parents, and teachers feel about standardized testing, it is important for all of us to keep the tests in perspective. Ask adults what they remember about their own schooling, and you will hear about the project they worked on for the science fair, the interview they conducted for an oral history project, the day an author came to visit the class, the trip they took to a battlefield, or the scenery they created for a theater production. It is rarely the day spent preparing for a test, memorizing vocabulary words, or bubbling in answers to multiple choice questions. All of those tasks may play a role, but they are not the activities that make students enthusiastic about coming to school. They are not the events that foster a sense of well-being and they should not be the heart and soul of the school experience for our students.
As educators, most of us know that the best preparation for the test is a rich, thoughtful, engaging curriculum that awakens curiosity in students, inspires them to ask questions, helps them explore complex problems, and encourages them to imagine possibilities. We understand that the best classrooms are lively places where students are immersed in conversation, debating ideas, and developing perspectives and viewpoints. And, because the single best way to improve reading proficiency is to read, and read, and read, students in these classrooms are reading plenty of authentic literature in addition to nonfiction. Literature is helping them to understand themselves, and to make sense of the world and their experience in it. They can lose themselves in books, and find themselves as well. And, research says that along the way, they are also becoming more empathetic human beings.
So, with the test season approaching, let’s try to remember what is most important about teaching, learning, and the school experience, and let’s try to help those in our charge do the same. I know I can count on you!