One of my favorite books is Hooray for Diffendoofer Day by none other than Dr. Seuss. This book was Theodore Geisel’s last muse about a school, a principal, and teachers who make students think. It was completed with the help of Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith and considering Dr. Seuss’s birthday is celebrated in March each year, I thought this would make a timely post.
Diffendoofer School is described as a place of joyful learning, where teachers love to teach, and students love to learn. The heroine of the book is Miss Bonkers, the teacher who is bouncy as a flea. “Look! Look! She chirps. I’ll show you how to tell a cactus from a cow, and then I shall instruct you why a hippo cannot hope to fly.” Then readers are introduced to Mr. Lowe, the principal of Diffendoofer School, described by students as the “saddest man that any of us know.” Why do you think he is so sad when he runs a school that is so happy? The answer lies in the high-stakes test, of course. “All schools for miles and miles around must take a special test to see who’s learning such and such –to see which school’s the best.”
Of course Miss Bonkers puts his fears to rest as she speaks to her students . . . “You’ve learned the things you need to pass that test and many more –I’m certain you’ll succeed. We’ve taught you that the earth is round, that red and white make pink, and something else that matters more –We’ve taught you how to think.”
As you can imagine, Dr. Seuss has the students pass the test 100%, Mr. Lowe is ecstatic,
and the children all celebrate – “Three cheers for Diffendoofer School!” Now there is an underlying theme in this book that is very relevant to this time of year. Testing season is upon us. It is time for the dreaded end-of-year assessments. My fear for public education is that the “test” is driving our educational system to value the wrong things. Yes, we need standards. However, we do not need to teach them in isolation, through drill and kill, and simply as a means to an end.
Are we managing standards acquisition or teaching students? We all became educators for one reason – to inspire students to LEARN. Think about yourself as a learner. How do you learn best? What was the best lesson you can remember? I bet it was a real-world, hands-on, challenging project or learning experience that engaged you. Did you learn a lot? Obviously, it was memorable. What was absent from the lesson you fondly recalled? I would wager that there were no worksheets, no homework, nor rote memorization. Rather, your teacher most likely called upon you to THINK, to solve problems, to create or question.
It is imperative that our teachers, the heroes and heroines of public education, stand firm to not sacrifice content for test prep nor joy for drill. Engage students in projects and learning experiences where standards are stacked high and questions abound. Seize the teachable moments and forgo the pacing guide. Offer choice, embed novelty and variety into your lessons, provide opportunities for students to collaborate and communicate with one another. These are the types of learning experiences that create meaning - that create memories.
This is not about whether we have permission, we are the professionals. I am begging us all to THINK about what engages our students, what challenges them, what helps them make meaning and connect concepts. Make instruction the main thing – not the test. You are the only ones that can ensure our classrooms are filled with joyful learning. I can promise that you too will be fulfilled with a passion for teaching, just like Miss Bonkers. And will your students succeed? Why - it is 100% guaranteed!