When I look back at my school-age years, I remember the special events, the projects, and the classroom activities that took place. I remember those special moments in the classroom - the Thanksgiving feast, the Valentine exchange, the guest speakers, the papers and projects I worked on with my classmates. In between all of these moments, we learned to read, write, add, and subtract. We memorized spelling and vocabulary lists, studied American history, and wrote a hypothesis for our science project. My education seemed separated into two arenas - the "fun" activities because it was that time of year, and the "hard learning" that put me behind a desk.
Today, our focus has been forced toward testing, and so our preparations become driven by what will be assessed on the state test and when that test will be given. As a school, our test scores and letter grade matter. And so, when instruction is drastically interrupted by weather, we are concerned with the lost preparation time for those tests. The "hard learning" behind a desk is being shortened before the time that really matters. We do want to show what our students have accomplished this year. We want our students to do well.
Within all of those preparations, we also worry about fitting in those "fun activities" that we know our students will cherish. We find time for it, but at what cost?
So, we seem trapped. We need to prepare students for that ever-important test, but we also want our classrooms to have meaning, be memorable for years to come, always special moments. And so, we make the most of every minute, no matter what. Integrate, integrate, integrate. Valentines become a collaborative project integrating history, writing, and a special ceremony of exchange. Students write reflections on their Thanksgiving. During a snow day, students are challenged to continue their learning with online reading opportunities and a blog of their own.
Teachers have been doing this for quite some time - the resources and ideas to make this happen are out there. I see it happening all around me. We just need to challenge ourselves to do this more. Make every minute count no matter what time of year. Integrate special moments with academics at every opportunity. Then, it doesn't matter when those tests come - our students are always ready. Our lessons and curriculum will always be on target - every minute counts.