Friday, March 19, 2010

Will this be on the test?

I am writing a test for my study skills class. It is 44 questions with both multiple choice and short answer. It is eight pages long and there are two forms. This is a big project for me as I wrote very few tests during my tenure as an early childhood teacher. Last year, when I taught an undergrad measurements class, instead of giving a final I asked the students to write their own.

What better way to find out if students in a class, teaching test writing, have learned how to write tests?

I am not a big fan of tests and because of my graduate level educational measurement class I know all too well why high stakes testing is a bad idea; a very bad idea, indeed.

I could tell some stories that would make your number two pencil curl.

My professor in the measurement class just gave us a stinker of a test. It was a take home test that took every spare minute over three days. When I finally finished the last question I realized that question, alone, took me an hour and a half. When he told us about the test, the professor bragged that no one had ever gotten 100% on the test before.

Really??? Srlsy?? No one?

So what does that say about the test and/or his teaching? I had the nerve to ask him what the reliability coefficient was on this test and he turned a bit pale and mumbled something I couldn't quite get down into my notes.

Dear Lord, grab my tongue and hold it down.

When I gave tests to elementary students, the test covered what we had studied and I considered it a good thing when all, or at least most of the students did a good job. Now, when I write test questions, I am supposed to write them with seductive distracters so they discriminate between poor learners and good learners. In other words, I should want some of my students to fail.

Hmmm, sounds like an excuse for poor teaching to me. But, then, what do I know? I am just a graduate student.

The issues surrounding testing in education are complicated and contentious. Are tests being used correctly? Are they telling us what we need to know? How much learning time can we afford to sacrifice to make room for more testing? Are tests really making education better, or just more competitive? Do test prepare students for the real world?

God's view of testing is very different. He allowed Job to be tested and then stepped in and gave Job the answers. God does not use testing to weed out the unbelievers from the believers; He will do that on the last day. God uses testing to teach and to bring about growth.

When our faith is tested, we become acutely aware of our need for answers. Although it is a good thing to participate in a study group; we can't prepare for our trials and tribulations. And although it is a good thing to study God's word; we can't study enough to be ready for a test of faith. We need our Teacher to give us the answers. We need our Teacher to complete the test for us.

And in that process we learn and grow in our faith.

It is not God's desire for us to fail. In fact it is His command that we succeed, and do so perfectly. God is the instructor who knows that we are not up to the task. We do not compete with each other; we compete with our own sinful nature. We fail at the test, we learn to trust in Him, and at the end of our semester the grade is reported as 100%.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:2-3

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5: 3-5

Friday, March 5, 2010

Orchid Children

Paul pointed me toward a great article in the December 2009 issue of The Atlantic: Orchid Children, by David Dobbs. The article is his explanation of a recent collaboration between geneticists and psychologists. The basic point of the article is that most of us are dandelions; we grow just fine wherever we are planted. We just need the basics to bloom and grow. Some of us, though, are orchids; we need special care or we will wilt and die. The good news about orchids is that with a bit of tender loving care, they grow into exceptional people.

It seems that the same gene variants that can make us susceptible to depression, anxiety ADHD, risk taking, anti-social or aggressive behaviors, can lead to highly creative and successful lives, if the right care is given. Whether or not the genes will lead to depression or creativity has a great deal to do with the child's life experiences and what care was received during formative years. In the past we have only seen the behaviors of depression, aggression, etc. as being a deficit; we have never seen them as being potential for greatness. Yet, the evidence is strong. I can think of several highly successful people who didn't adjust well to their school environments (Einstein, Edison, F.L.Wright) and many many creative people who suffered from depression (Lincoln, Dickenson, Van Gogh) or other mental illnesses. We have assumed that these negative behaviors, or conditions, are only negative, but maybe they are the reason for the success of these individuals.

The article describes a research program that studied toddlers who had issues. They studied children who had high levels of externalizing behaviors. "Externalizing behaviors" is nothing but a fancy way of saying these kids whined, and kicked and refused to obey. It is known that toddlers with especially high rates of these behaviors are more likely to have difficulties later on. The research program showed that when the mothers of these children were given specific techniques to use and training to detect when a fit was about to happen, that when they applied these techniques these children made huge progress in being able to self soothe and stay calm. The mothers found that if they persisted they could teach their children to enjoy activities, like reading a book together, which previously was deemed impossible. It took a lot of work, perseverance, patience and love, but the result was these orchid children bloomed.

Apparently you can undergo a genetic test to see if you carry these specific genetic alleles. I don't think this is a good idea as I believe all children should be raised as orchid children. In fact, I believe in God's eyes we all are orchid children. We carry the gene for sin. We follow our own whims and lead ourselves into trouble. We persist in trying to get our own way even in the face of God's wisdom and plan. We are all orchid toddlers, whining and kicking and screaming through the trials and tribulations we cause ourselves. Others lose patience with us, we even lose patience with ourselves, but God perseveres.

God's love covers a multitude of sins. He applies law as we need it but never hesitates to shower us with Grace. He knows that alone we have no potential to do anything right, much less anything exceptional. He knows that through the redemptive work of the Son and through the faith giving power of the spirit, we are exceptional in His eyes.

A parent's love for a difficult child covers a multitude of behaviors. When that love is correctly and gently applied, God creates a change. My husband, Paul, expressed this beautifully in his song "Love Covers a Multitude."

Remember today, that we are simultaneous dandelions and orchids. God can create growth wherever He plants you. You are forgiven and loved. You are exceptional.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

I Peter 4: 8-10

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I Corinthians 13:7

Monday, March 1, 2010

Green Eggs and Homer

When I was little I used to wonder if my Uncle Homer was Dr. Seuss. I suppose it was the last name of Eggers and the whole green eggs and ham reference, but, it was probably a little bit due to the fact that Uncle Homer was just as I imagined Dr. Seuss would be like: kind, loving, funny, interested in kids as if we were real people, and plenty goofy when the situation called for it. Now, that I am old enough to know better, I still suspect that Uncle Homer was an even better Dr. Seuss than the real one.

When I went to family reunions I would always look for Uncle Homer. Now don't get me wrong, I loved my pastor uncles and wonderful aunts; I admired their vocabularies, their discussions, and many accomplishments but, you see, Uncle Homer was interested in me. He would put his hand on my shoulder and ask me. . .really ask me, how I was doing. Because of the wonders of Grace and Homer, I very much wanted to be like their children, Tom, Susan and Nancy, when I grew up. I hope I am, at least a little bit.

When I think of Uncle Homer and Aunt Grace I am reminded of a particular characteristic: humility. Homer and Grace did not boast. This was not a surprise because those of us who teach know that the people who brag are usually the ones who are least secure. They feel the need to remind people of their importance. They worry they might be deemed insignificant if others aren't hearing about them or imitating them. No, Homer and Grace did not boast. Still, they didn't put themselves down, either. The folks who criticize themselves in front of others aren't any more humble than the people who boast. It doesn't really matter if you are bragging or dragging, you are still thinking about yourself. Homer and Grace showed humility because they didn't feel the need to be thinking about themselves. They were too busy thinking about others. They were too busy loving others. They were too busy doing the work God set before them. In this way they showed us what it means to be a servant.

A few days ago, Jesus came, put his hand on Homer's shoulder and took him home to heaven. I am imagining him holding Grace's hand and looking into the eyes of his Savior. I know that both Homer and Grace went to heaven very proud of their children. I know both Homer and Grace will be missed. And, because of their humility and love, I know my Savior's love a little bit better.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. I Corinthians 2:9-10