Testing or Teachable Moments?


If you read my blog you’ll know that while I support accountability, I’m outraged by the fact that a generation of teachers and students have become slaves to corporatized testing. While our school district mission statements all claim to “foster life-long learners,” in reality, teachers are forced to spend increasing class time prepping kids for predictable tests. … Maybe after they graduate, students will learn how to function in an unpredictable world that devalues routine work and rewards adaptable learners with marketable “soft skills.”

And so today’s Oregonian guest column by Portland teacher, Allen Koshewa, struck a chord with me. He writes:

Several years ago, after I brought in tulips from my garden, my fifth-grade students wanted to plant their own. I learned that few students in my school’s high-poverty community had ever planted anything, so we planted tulips (not in the curriculum). In the process, one student found part of a rusted horseshoe, so we studied the history of the neighborhood (not in the curriculum), discovering that a farm had existed there 90 years earlier. Then, because of the proliferation of questions about the artifacts we’d unearthed, we studied archaeology (not in the curriculum). With the new push for common core standards nationwide, perhaps no student in any fifth grade in the United States will plant tulips, explore the history of his or her neighborhood or learn about archaeology ever again.

I urge you to read his entire essay. As you do, reflect on how the test regime has extinguished the teachable moment. Tulips… to planting… to discovery of horseshoe create the incentive to study local history and techniques of archaeology. Students using one discovery, to pose, and then answer their own questions. Teachable moments that inspire students with purpose, mastery and accomplishment.

Image credit: Flickr/FrasSmith

Isabella’s Story: Working to Sustain Her Sugpiaq Fishing Heritage. Now She’s Fighting for Her Life

A sad update: Bella passed away on January 10, 2012. Her courage will always be an inspiration. Thank you to everyone who sustained and supported her over the last year. As a tribute to her, the rest of this post remains in it’s original form.


Regular readers of my blog will recognize how unique this post is. It’s far from what I normally write about. But I feel compelled to tell a story in the hopes that I can help spread the word for a friend in need. Isabella, my next door neighbor, is fighting for her life against cancer. You can help with a donation, tweet or status update. Here’s Bella’s story.

Isabella Blatchford, a native Alaskan Sugpiaq Indian, was well on her way to creating a sustainable seafood business. (She had already sold to Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse!) She saw it not only as a viable business, but a means to support her Sugpiaq heritage and honor her tribal elders – the last handful of Sugpiaq  speakers. In February 2009, she discovered she had Stage 4 cancer. Using a blend of standard and alternative medical treatments, she was able to beat the odds for the last few years. 

However in February 2011 her cancer tumor markers went back up rapidly, and her doctors are have told her that it is time for a quick change in her method of treatment. She has the opportunity to travel to Mexico for treatment. She is in need of $7,000 by April 20th, 2011 in order to obtain treatment. 

Isabella Update: Here’s a story and powerful video from the Oregonian An Alaska native who lives in Portland battles cancer while working to save a tribe’s language (April 13, 2011)

Isabella needs your help. Even a small donation will be appreciated. And you can help her get the word out – contribute a Twitter link or a Facebook status update.

Thank you for anything you can do.

Photo: Torsten Kjellstrand/The Oregonian