a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Enemy of Creativity

“Extended response is the enemy of creative writing,” quipped a student of mine the other day.  Sadly, he spoke the truth. 

We are into day two of standardized testing, and I can’t wait until it’s over.  I must admit, though, that the monotonous standardized testing proctor script awakens the rebel in me.  While I completely understand why teachers bemoan the students who declare their plan is to simply “bubble in a pattern” on the answer document, there is still a part of me that admires those students.  It is the part of me that makes me wonder what stopped me from being that student?  What stops me from the being the teacher who urges students to be absent during the two week testing window, like Alfie Kohn taught me to be?  What stops me from distributing colored pencils to my students so that at least those bubbles will be brought to life (even if they are all marked wrong by the state because they are not darkened using “No. 2” graphite)?  What stops me from challenging my students to eat a marshmallow between every question on the test? 

I would like to think that it is not fear that stops me—fear of being declared a highly UNqualified or ineffective teacher, fear of being questioned, fear of being fired.  I would like to think that instead, what stops me is my respect for the system—my respect for the public education system that served me well and that I signed up to be part of even after I was legally required to be.  You see, even though I don’t agree with the way the test results are used, I have a respect for the meaning those test results hold for my students, and the impact they will have on each student’s educational experience. 

Even the rebel in me respects the system because it is the system that serves (or fails to serve) my students.


  1. Nice post, I really like the continuous questions.

  2. Ahh, beloved testing. I try, as you do, to make tests seem relevant, to have the taking of them make sense to students. But, truthfully, it gets harder every year...

    I really like the last line....

  3. We just finished Day Two also. I'm testing five fifth grade boys, all special needs. I've tried really hard to make it as bearable as I can- I bring special treats, take them outside between tests, etc. Even so, one of them broke down and cried today because the test was too hard. It broke my heart.

  4. I remember when I taught (subbed) in high school that I dreaded being on duty during testing periods. I once confiscated a young woman's scratch paper (we were instructed to) only to find out later that it was a letter to her boyfriend telling him she was pregnant. (Yes, I peeked.) After the powers that be approved, I quickly brought it back to the girl after lunch in a manila envelope to ensure privacy. Any ninth-grader with that kind of news probably could have cared less about some rule about scratch paper. Or some standardized test.

    love the blog look--

  5. Great post. I wrote yesterday about the effects of testing on my own daughter, and I empathize completely with your feelings.

    Great post!

  6. In Michigan, we do all of our creativity-sucking tesing in the fall. Thank goodness. We are over and done with it early so we can try to focus on instruction. The line you wrote right before your list of questions really stuck with me. I found myself shaking my head in agreement. Hope it is over soon.

  7. We have testing windows open from November until about the end of the school year and students have a chance to take reading and math up to three times. Add in English Language Proficiency for some and writing or science for others depending on grade level and it can equal a lot of testing time!

    I love that you brought out that the results do impact different aspects of students' overall educational experience outside of our own classrooms, so I love that you respect/want them to have the best chance to do their best given the circumstances.