This week the whole school started gearing up for our NECAP testing. NECAP is the New England version of national testing for the No Child Left Behind law. Most teachers spent time coaching students and guiding practice in the various kinds of questions that will be asked, using official “Released Items” in class. Released items are actual questions that will no longer be used; they are passed along for the schools to use in many different ways.
This week I was using Reading test items as practice tests. I gave students two specific test-taking strategies to help them improve their scores, and then we did the practice. One article students were asked to read was called, At the Summer Cottage; it was an excerpt from a book. In the story, a family of five is beginning a two-month vacation and the father is particularly happy about having no television for the duration; one of the children in the family has a vivid imagination and the story contains several instances of the things he concocts in his mind. After I had guided students through the answers to all of the questions, I thought I would model for them the practice of making personal connections to the characters.
I asked this question: What would you think if you were going to a summer cottage for two months and would not have any television?
I expected students to speak out in protest about how awful that would be.
I was wrong.
This group of sixteen students thought that would be a wonderful way to have a vacation. (Side note: I’m so fortunate to work in a school where sixteen students in a class is the norm!)
We launched into a wonderfully rich conversation about all the things one might do if there were no TV. They were first to mention reading. Kids shared personal stories — one boy said his family didn’t have a TV for the first six or seven years of his life, and he liked that; even now he wasn’t a big fan. Another student said her father turned it on in the evening, but she just went to her room so she wouldn’t have to watch. I shared a tidbit about enjoying my morning coffee with my dog snuggled in my lap, watching the news on our local TV station, and then turning it off after the weather report. A few students said their mornings were similar; some said their parents just turned on their computers to find out what the news was about each day. But time and again, most of the kids in that class firmly said they preferred reading over watching TV. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised; these kids come into my room every day begging to spend the whole period reading.
I did step out on a limb and asked how they would feel if they had to give up their computers or iPods for two months, and I did get protests then. And I told them I agreed — I could easily forego television, and I am guilty of spending a lot of time with my computer and iPod. My gultiest pleasure? Spider Solitaire. (My son takes great pleasure in being overtly disgusted with my behavior.)
I am not so naive as to believe that the world is changing because I have a class of students who prefers reading over watching television, but it sure does make me happy that I get to work with this group this year.