Celebrate: Doubt

celebrate link upThis week I’m celebrating doubt.

Most see doubt as a weakness. And it can be. Doubt can disable.  It can stop the doing and stall progress. But doubt can be something that checks actions.

Doubt keeps me on my toes. Doubt opens me to perspectives that yesterday I vehemently opposed. Doubt makes me look into dark places to consider things that I need to look at in the light.

The more I parent, teach, live, the more I doubt. I believe there are times to employ doubt in order to understand and promote what matters most.

This week I watched my students take the test. I walked up and down aisles, just watching them.

This week I stood beside my students’ reality.  I faced the place students have to go once a year, and doubt creeped in. Students must sit, feet on the ground, behind a desk carol.  They’re all alone with no support. This place, where what they do in that all-alone-dark place, without support, determines a bit of their future. Watching students sit — shoulders tense, legs jiggling — made me doubt my classroom stance.

The majority of our classroom time is about the process of learning, of reading, of writing and the joy that should come from it.  In that spirit, we work collaboratively, all over the room in all kinds of ways. Most often we are not sitting quietly at a desk.

This year my students practiced and learned the standards tested. They learned it in the spirit of authenticity: how it makes sense in the world, how they might use it in their lives to be better humans. I strive for authentic learning because I believe this is what keeps students engaged, this is what teaching and learning should be.

Students did very little practice behind a testing carol. They spent the vast majority of their time active, participating, approximating, learning.

Watching students test my beliefs were tested with doubt. Did I do right by them? Not practicing an environment that they are required to be competent in?

This isn’t a new debate for me. I’ve doubted and adjusted my stance. And, over the years I moved towards and then strongly away from the testing world. Towards authenticity. I still believe that is the place to spend the great majority of our time. I still strongly believe it is the only place that will sustain and promote learning.

But, today letting doubt seep in — I question.

How can the reality and impact of testing  be included in an authentic learning landscape without corrupting the spirit of learning and risk taking that goes with it?

Testing is there. It’s a reality for students and can determine their future. How can we make this reality productive and not crippling to the authentic process of learning?

This doubt challenges. That’s a good thing.

This week I celebrate doubt.

Please share your thoughts. Thanks to you and Ruth Ayers for the Celebrating This Week link up. Read more celebrations here.

11 thoughts on “Celebrate: Doubt

  1. Love your take on this. Yep – doubt, and especially doubt with reflection is a powerful force! So much is how we see or think about things, isn’t it!

  2. I think we owe it to our students to teach into the risk taking, which is a really good word for what happens ( or should be happening) during test taking! It seems to me that with a little creativity, we could make some space for test prep that gets kids
    ready for the behaviors of test taking, not so much the content. Because the content is there all year. But the sitting and attacking a prompt… not so much.

  3. I am really unsure about this question – test prep only makes sense to make the test experience go more smoothly and, perhaps, also to make the test results better. But at what cost? And if these are the only benefits, can they outweigh everything else we value – those authentic experiences you describe? Our choices are important ones and we need to continue to question, to second guess, to doubt as we keep making decisions we can live with every day – not just in testing season.

    • Thank you so much for your wise thoughts Carrie. By looking at our daily work, all year long through the lens of value and cost, we do best by our students.

  4. Because we do no testing at my school, I’m not sure what your stance should be, but I’ve enjoyed & admired every bit you’ve shared about your teaching, Julieanne. In my school, here with the oldest students, the fact that we encourage independent thinking, constant questioning to seek the answers that seem correct for varied outcomes, and that we support problem-solving in every area seems to help them when they leave for more structured high schools in which testing is key. They tell me time & again that they just figure it out, & do well in the testing. That’s the only response I have for you. I suspect your students will do well because you’ve supported independent thought, etc. Doubting is always part of every plan I make. I applaud you for celebrating it.

    • Wow! Students K-8 have no standardized testing and then go on to do well in the testing world of high school and beyond! What powerful results I wish were documented, studied and shared. High stakes testing is the reality at some point in a student’s life. But if we nurture and grow our younger students with true learning skills, it seems like they would as you say, “figure it out” when they get there. This just seems to make so much sense. In education’s fight to raise achievement, they’re ignoring huge developmental issues of our kiddos. Thank you so much for your words Linda!

  5. Oh I can’t believe you managed to make this a celebration!! It’s one of the many reasons I admire you! I have been struggling with the same thing. We discussed testing this week and the students reported hating the “sitting still” and the “stressful energy of the whole school”. I want to prepare them and protect them all at once. I have no answers…only more doubt, but I will celebrate that alongside you today, my friend!

    • “Prepare and protect” love those words. When I published this post I worried that it might not fit the celebratory theme, but it was the elephant in my mind, and I couldn’t ignore it. Hearing your words helps so much. We are in this together, and together we can work to make it better for our students.

  6. I am glad you found a way to make this a celebration. I tried to find a way to write about the testing…the crying…the sighing..*(and that was the teachers)….my emotions too raw and stressed to hit publish.

  7. I know this doubt that you speak of all too well julienne, and being out of the classroom, my doubt has increased. Maybe it’s because I have a birds eye view so to speak. Maybe it’s because I now see the seeds of elementary sprout in middle school. Or maybe, it’s simply because I have more time to doubt and reflect. I do know that I would do things differently if I were in the classroom again. Or, at least I hope I would. The biggest change would involve a more ‘authentic’ approach to teaching, thinking, learning, etc… I regret my response to the culture of high stakes testing. I hope I never again succumb to the whirlwind of test prep. I commend you for your heart and dedication. Thank you for celebrating doubt.

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