I Used Black Magic To Teach a Kid To Read
Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" This may be the first and last time I ever talk about black magic, so do a bookmark or whatever. I never intend to do black magic, but occasionally it happens by chance ... and in this case it had the desired effect.
Now, all you school teachers, read up on this post. You may want to use this spell too.
Earlier this week I went to a school meeting about a thing called data driven assessment. This is basically where you use standardized test scores to plan your lessons and to see which kids are learning, and what they're learning. All of this based on little bubbles they fill in using Number Two pencils. After they take the standardized tests, the school sends them to this geeky company (name withheld), where they're inputted and then you can zap into them 100 different ways. The school meeting was basically intended to show us teachers some of those 100 ways to read the data produced by our students.
Now, I would have thought this all to be so much flatulence into the wind. Except, lo and behold, I discovered one student who completely and totally learned to read in one year, with my instruction and black magic!
For the sake of giving him the same kind of due respect our modern educators seem to want for kids, I will call the student 07890.
07890 was one of those students who, if he was interested in the work at hand, would apply himself and do a good job. He caused no trouble, was polite, on time, and usually on task.
On the first of four standardized reading tests I had to give last year, 07890 scored a 1 out of 13. There's no such thing as "hopeless loser" in data-driven instruction. The data company labeled 07890 "partially proficient."
The school year progressed, and 07890 revealed himself to be a rather indifferent student who was satisfied with C-plus grades. One day I said to him, "I've noticed that if we're reading or writing about a topic that interests you, you really get into it."
07890 replied, "Yes, I can't always motivate myself to work on things that don't interest me."
I promised I would try to find books and topics that would interest 07890.
On our second standardized test of the year, 07890 improved slightly. This time he got 3 out of 12 questions correct. You see? Already I was having the kind of influence that only a great teacher can have. He improved 200 percent!
Sadly, on the third standardized test of the year, 07890 plateaued. He got another 3 out of 12.
This was a disappointment. 07890 was somehow maintaining a B/C average in my class, while being unable to read!
Aha. The proof was in the pudding. When the final marking period came, 07890 showed his true colors and began missing assignments, turning in work that was incomplete, and just plain not doing stuff. This is what you would expect of an illiterate student, after all, especially if he's a freshman in high school.
I can't say I didn't warn 07890. I told him he was failing the marking period. He shrugged it off.
So I had to turn to black magic.
This black magic is the well-known teacher spell, "Academic Behavior Report." It's a form letter that teachers send home to parents when students are not doing well in class. I am always loathe to send these things. How do I know what sort of punishment will be meted out upon a kid from a parent who gets the letter? But I had no choice. I might add that, if I had known of 07890's standardized test scores at the time, I might have sent a letter home sooner, just out of sheer concern for his near-complete illiteracy.
A distinctly humbled 07890 came into my classroom a few days later and asked if he would be allowed to make up the assignments he had missed or done incompletely. I gladly granted him complete freedom to do so. I also suggested that he might try a little harder on the next standardized test. If he did well, I said, it might boost his grade.
Imagine my surprise at the teacher meeting on data driven learning, when I saw the computerized assessment of 07890's standardized tests! On the final test of the year -- the test he took after the black magic was applied -- he got 12 out of 12 answers correct. No, I did not help him! There was clearly magic at work from a higher power!
(Here I wish to add that 07890 and all of his fellow freshmen would have done better on Test 3 if the testing company had actually keyed in the correct response for one of the questions. Every single kid got the answer wrong, because they all chose the correct answer -- and the machine was programmed to accept a wrong answer. If this makes sense, then you can see the vast benefits of judging teachers by standardized test results.)
Normally I don't pat myself on the back for spell work, but this case is so rare and exceptional. As a teacher I like to think that I taught a young man to read in one year. And what a convincing actor he was too! You'd have thought, the way 07890 stuck his nose into football books, that he already knew how to read. He sure had me fooled. But no matter! He knows how to read now!
Let us all applaud the presidents and governors and other educational muckamucks who think standardized testing is the shits. They're so right! Any computer can tell you how well your students are doing. The teacher's only role should be to sharpen a large supply of Number Two pencils.
One final note: In school year 2010-11, my students spent seven school days doing standardized tests. This was just great for me too. Think of it. Seven days I didn't have to plan a lesson! Add to that the three days I was out grading standardized essays, and that's two whole weeks of school without one word from the teacher! I tell ya, folks, with a little black magic and a gross of Number Twos, teaching is a snap.