Saturday, March 14, 2009

Zombie Paradise

This little zombie-sitter has fallen ass-backward into the best gig I've ever had. Five weeks of being a tutor to small groups of zombies to prepare them for the state test.

Now I am not a big fan of standardized testing. Anyone who has had to witness the transformation of good teachers into test prep robots would agree that high risk tests are detrimental to learning. Once I had a teacher (whom I never had much respect for) tell me that their class wouldn't be doing any writing during the year because there wouldn't be a writing component on the test. "Why should I waste my time?", this monster in a teacher suit asked me. I wanted to scream and scream and scream. The quality of education plummets while kids are prepared for the test. Textbooks gather dust while the practice booklets are whipped out one after the other. Test, test, test is all these poor zombies hear about for months on end. It's so sad to see them ground down into just pencil wielding statistics instead of the little individual zombies that they are.

Ack! This isn't where I wanted to go with this. I was talking about my cool new assignment. I will be working with small groups of zombies who have been identified as being "on the bubble." Any of these kids could pass the test, but they could just as easily fail. They are right on the edge of grasping the skills and learning needed to push them over the top. They also possess plenty of school is stupid attitude and general goofiness which could bring them up short. Bubble kids could pass IF they got enough sleep, had a good breakfast, their pencil isn't too shiny, a firetruck doesn't pass by the window, their underwear doesn't feel itchy, they didn't watch anything too funny on TV last night AND the kid beside him doesn't tap his pencil while he's thinking. If all the stars are aligned, then the bubbles just might squeak out a passing score.

My job is meet with the bubbles and attempt to cram a tiny bit more information in their wee little heads. I've been on the job for a week and resistance has been strong.

Fortunately for the three of you, I will have plenty of funny zombie stories instead of miserable ones because this job is in my favorite school. These are likable zombies.

Here's your first story. This group was actually kids who are not even at bubble status. I have them, I think, just so their regular teacher can get some things done while they are out of the room. They are low, low, low. We were doing math story problems. One went like this:

You have an object that weighs 30 ounces. You know that one pound equals sixteen ounces. What could your object be?
a) a banana
b) a third grader
c) a five pound bag of potatoes
d) a quart of milk

Right away I could see that this problem was WAY too difficult for these guys. The four of them just sat there staring at the paper, pencils unmoving. On the board I wrote:

one pound = 16 oz.
two pounds = ____

"How can we figure out how many ounces are in two pounds?" I asked. There faces now were pointed blankly at the board. One girl scowled at it. "Okay, I want you take your best guess at this. Get rid of the choices that couldn't be right. Narrow it down."

All four of them choose the five pound bag of potatoes as the correct answer.

The next few minutes involved me trying, in every way I could think of, to explain the concept of doubling. I drew pictures. I gave them things to hold. They just couldn't get their heads around it. It was the weight thing that was throwing them off. It was the number 16. It was that they just didn't care. I was just about to throw in the towel when one of the zombies face lit up. On her paper I saw that she had actually written 16 twice. She smiled at me. "I got it!" She was beaming.

"Cool! So how many ounces are in two pounds?"



Weaver said...

APPLE!?!??? Huh?

Yep. Sounds like these kids should just get handed another test so the grownupa around them can feel better about themselves. Ugh.

Nance said...

Sigh. Don't even get me started. I just got done grading four sets of essay questions in which I italicized, bolded, and underlined a critical piece of information. Didn't matter. My HONORS kids still ignored it and failed the question epically. And what do I say EVERY SINGLE TIME I HAND OUT A TEST? "READ DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY AND FOLLOW THEM EXACTLY." WTF.

J. said...

Nance and Weaver: Today I got my group of low, low, lows to do successful work by bribing them with Teddy Grahams. Yay bribery!

Anonymous said...

Not on the testing subject!! But Jen U gotta tell Eric that I have got my kids to eat my favortie snack, yes! CRACKERS AND JELLY!


J. said...

Jenjen: Eric is very happy to know that you have raised your children well!