Earlier this month I had the honour of sitting in community with shea martin and a few others as shea talked with us about dreaming. I have not really considered the power of dreaming before listening to shea and another brilliant educator, lizzie fortin, a few summers ago. Now I think about it all the time. I dream of better schools, I dream of better opportunities for my students and myself.
Over the last few years Covid has really wreaked havoc on aspects of the education system. A lot of promises to reimagine or change the way things were done were made. Most didn’t happen, however one change, at least for two years, was excellent. No standardized tests. That coupled with a grade-less, learning centred approach really had a positive impact on my students.
Slowly students took chances. The weight of failure removed, kids discovered they were writers, creators, and poets. They created, they explored language. We dove into multimodal composition. These were the Patchwork kids, a class who didn’t know it when we started but realized pretty quick they were joining a dreamer. This little class was a mix of 3 different classes. Schedules and numbers made it necessary but the freedom to explore made us a community. I loved that class and the work that came out of it inspired me to keep chasing after this little dream I have.
This year the tests are back. I have had some folks tell me that I wouldn’t be able to teach the same way. That test preparation needs to take the place of dreaming big. “Do you really think you can get them ready for this?” This being a test. The question caused me to doubt myself for a bit. I still doubt myself. But I never doubt the kids.
We have already started writing, the students are starting to discover who they are as writers and we will proudly walk into a test room ready to write. A student mentioned the other day how much they hate school because it tells you what to do and how to learn but they liked my class because I didn’t. I give them the room to explore.
This week I wanted to introduce the class to multimodal work. We watched Jason Reynolds For Everyone and students collected lines that moved them. Today they started creating blueprints of ideas to share those lines with our classroom community. So many cool ideas.
There is some kind of cool levelling of the playing field when we start to operate outside the standardized approach to education. That freedom to breathe without the expectations of a test sitting on our chest. I know the test is sitting in the shadows but for now we are going to spend some time in the light.
In For Everyone Jason talks about the ember of doubt. He also talks about the dreamer ready to jump. Ready to take that leap despite not knowing the outcome. I have asked myself a lot if my dreams are too big. If the ideas I have for creating an English class that honours the unique brilliance of all my students is something better left to classes without this test waiting in the dark. In the end I have decided with my toes just on the edge, as Jason puts it, that it is better to jump than let that ember of doubt grow and a fire consume this dream.
So we jump.