*I originally published this post on nuestrasescuelas.wordpress.com

This week has been a big week for testing across the state of Texas–the home of high stakes testing. Many teachers feel pressure to teach to the test and, as Jay McTighe puts it, we must beware of the test prep trap.

But, as our Nuestras Escuelas, Nuestros Poderes Collaborative is increasingly aware, many of the teachers in our diverse AISD schools have been bravely ‘bewaring’ harmful test-prep in their classrooms all year. Let’s take a peek at what that kind of learning looks like.

Now on display at the Pleasant Hill Library are original informational books by Houston Elementary‘s and Ms. Barbara McKinnon’s 3rd graders.

barbaras class

Ms. McKinnon guided her students as decision-makers and in self-management as they chose their own topics and crafted their writing with the support of their teacher and their peers. As the Pleasant Hill Librarian and I flipped through these glossy-covered books, preparing them for display, we read lines aloud to each other. Youthful voices arose from each page, making us smile and relate and leaving a lasting impression.

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Come read and leave encouraging feedback for the young authors this week or this Saturday for the Dia de los niños celebration at the Pleasant Hill Library. After display at the library, Ms. McKinnon plans to pass the 3rd graders’ books on to Mr. Juan Martínez-Esqueda so that his 8th graders at Mendez Middle School can leave their feedback and the 3rd graders can look to Mendez as the next stop in their educational career. Mr. Martínez-Esqueda’s 8th graders are currently working on a legacy project where they are writing and recording their memories of their middle school days at Mendez.

Meanwhile, at Fulmore Middle School, Ms. Bridget Farr’s students have created original, diverse superheroes. By taking a critical look at the inequities in representation in media, Ms. Farr’s students are practicing culturally responsive and sustaining learning. As they created their own superheroes who represent perspectives largely absent from mainstream media, Ms. Farr’s students are making change through production–not blind consumption–of media.

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Fulmore students’ superhero posters will be on display soon down the hallways of Dawson Elementary School where Dawson Dolphins will have the opportunity to read, respond, and dream of being at Fulmore one day where they will continue the kind of work that educators like Larry Frier, Dawson’s Instructional Coach, are doing with students. Mr. Frier has been working with a group of fourth graders at Dawson to craft original feature articles on current social issues. They chose the social issues that they are most passionate about and are using text, images, and other text features to create magazine-like pieces. They plan to share these pieces with their Fulmore counterparts and get feedback from their older peers.

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And just down the road, fourth grade students at Galindo Elementary and teachers like Ms. Jessica Kamphaus and Ms. Soledad Bautista are preparing for their final authors celebration of the year: Talking Back: A Celebration of Stories Untold and Student Voice. 

On Tuesday, May 22nd from 6:00-7:00pm, students and their families will gather to celebrate their unique experiences, beliefs, and identities through writing, art, and other literacies. Come join Galindo teachers, students, and families in reading and responding to students’ work! RSVP to lindsay.e.thomas@austinisd.org.

And it’s not just the big kids who are doing big things in our Travis Vertical Team schools! Dawson Elementary kindergartners have created Ellsworth Kelly-inspired art. Kindergarten parent, Marian Thompson, reached out to the Blanton museum and arranged for the young artists’ work to be published in the upcoming Blanton newsletter! Keep a look out!

As parents and teachers looking for the just right school to enrich our children’s education and our own professional careers, we look for the type of environment that motivates, engages, and inspires children in their learning. When we look to test scores as the primary output of schools, we may only see a number that is masking the type of test-prep we want to avoid. Instead, let’s work together to make test scores a mere by-product of great teaching. Let’s come together to unearth, celebrate, and spread the word about the great teaching that is going on in our schools and is supporting each individual student to grow and thrive.

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