TFK: The Future of Testing

tfk testing
How timely is this? The cover story to Time for Kids magazine this week is all about the shifts coming around Common Core testing (either PARCC or Smarter Balance.) We have our own Massachusetts state reading assessments next week (with Math in May). So, testing is on our minds, as much as I would not like it to be. I’ve talked to my students about the changes in our state’s expectations (ie, Common Core) and the changes that are coming down the pike with testing. The TFK cover story, however, provided a solid overview of what they can expect to see happening in the next two to three years.

The article sparked some great discussions and also generated some pertinent questions, such as:

  • Will students HAVE to use the computer or will they have a choice to use paper?
  • What if a school doesn’t have enough technology? How will students take the test?
  • How long will this test take to do?
  • What if you don’t have good typing skills?
  • How will the test be introduced? (ie, Will there be a practice year?)
  • Could someone cheat by using the computer to find information online?
  • For the tests that are “computer adaptive,” does that mean that students who answer incorrectly will have more questions to answer than those who answer correctly? (Computer adaptive tests move the student forward in different directions, depending on the previous answer).
  • Why is there more writing?
  • My mom/dad says this new test is coming because too many teachers are teaching to the (current test). Is that true?

I didn’t have the answers to all these queries, because so much of what is going to happen remains unclear and muddled.

As for that last question (which was asked by three different students in three different classrooms, by the way), I tried to explain that while that may be happening in some classrooms in some schools, and it may be a worthy complaint, I did not feel that we were doing that. However, I acknowledged that the kinds of teaching we are doing now, and the levels and kinds of expectations that we have for students now, has changed over the past three years (more evidence-based writing; more research activities; more non-fiction, argumentative, expository pieces) due to the shifts.

And then we started to talk about strategies for next week’s state reading test. So maybe the complaint about time spent teaching to the test is valid, after all. Sigh.

Peace (in the testing),


Six Word Memoir: The Thimble/NWP Experiment

6words thimble

If you have been following my writing this month, you will notice that I am diving deep into six word memoirs for the Slice of Life challenge. (And thank you for reading them, too. I appreciate it.) As it turns out, the National Writing Project and the Mozilla Foundation have created a site with the webmaker tool, Thimble, on the Six Word Memoir theme.  (You can read more about the project at Digital Is.)

So, I gave it shot this weekend, and found it interesting. Since it designed both to create a six word memoir AND teach a bit about coding, the composition takes a bit longer than it would normally do. But I liked the site, and here is what I created:
6words Music

You can try, too. The Six Word Memoir Thimble site is open and accessible to all.

Peace (in the six words),


Slice of Life: Woody Guthrie Lives Inside of Me

This is a post for Slice of Life.
6words woody
I’ve had a lot of ideas around songs lately, and this one came about as I was reading news articles about the gridlock in DC. I don’ t think this song is right for my rock band, Duke Rushmore, so it may just sit on the side for a bit until I figure out if it has legs for something else. (It might lead to a digital story.) The theme is inspired a bit by Steve Earle, who wrote Christmastime in Washington with references to Woody Guthrie. There was a time when all I wrote were political and protest songs. But that seems so long ago now. It felt as I were slipping on some old clothes with this one, remembering the anger at the establishment for having ideals so different from my own.

You know?

Thanks for listening and for reading ….


Peace (in the song),



Book Review: Good Prose (The Art of Nonfiction)

What I wouldn’t give to be in the room as writer Tracy Kidder and editor Richard Todd hash out ideas for books and magazine articles, and go through the entire process from start to finish, when they read out the work together in a final run-through before publication. In reality, it would probably be boring. I know that. But as captured in their new book — Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction — the partnership between writer and editor is so pitch-perfect, and so collaborative, that one feels sad to realize that that not every writer probably has that kind of relationship with an editor.

While Good Prose does center on advice for writing non-fiction — ranging from topics of telling the truth to structural decisions around longer narratives to the ways writers use language for effect — I found the sections where Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer (for Soul of a New Machine, about the very beginning of the computer revolution), and Todd, his editor and a writer himself, share words about their relationship as collaborators over four decades, and offer an insider’s glimpse into the way Kidder writes, to have been the best parts of an excellent book.

I should note a few things here. First, I have met Kidder before. He lives in our neck of the woods, and when he was doing research for his book, Hometown, he was sitting in the same meetings and watching the same news unfold as I was, in my role as a newspaper reporter. I won’t say he would know me if he saw me (he wouldn’t) but I have had a keen interest in Kidder for a number of years, as one often does with local authors who have won the Pulitzer Prize. That said, I have not always found his writing to be my style. There’s something about his books that removes the reader from the emotional center of the story, in my opinion. Even the book I thought I would love – Among Schoolchildren — didn’t quite touch me the way I thought it would. I did enjoy Mountains Beyond Mountains, however, and I realized as I read Good Prose why that is: Kidder injects himself into a first person narrative in the story of Dr. Paul Farmer. By doing that, he brought me, the reader, into the story with him. He closed the gap between reader and story. And I have met Richard Todd, too, as he is the father of a friend of mine, whose son (Todd’s grandson) is one my son’s best friends. We’ve never spoken more than a few words, however, and I never even knew he was Kidder’s editor.

My own difficulties with connecting to Kidder’s writing (and most people have nothing but praise for Kidder’s style) were not an issue here, as the vignettes and stories of researching and writing stories forms the heart of this book, and the two men do a fantastic job (Todd, in particular, has a fantastic way of telling a story with humor and English-style reservation, it seems to me). The craft of non-fiction goes deeper than I imagined, and I admire the kind of research and writing/revising/rewriting that Kidder undergoes to pull together a story from his notes. He admits he can spend a year or more rewriting draft after draft, trying to get it right. Todd’s role as arbiter of ideas, supportive friend, attentive reader is a crucial part of this relationship, as he guides Kidder forward along various paths.

If you are writer, or wish to learn more about the art of non-fiction, (or teach non-fiction writing) I’d suggest you go no further than Good Prose. It will invigorate you, and remind you that the act of writing — writing well, anyway — is a craft all unto itself, with decisions that will stake out a path forward for the story. The amount of dedication (and, as Kidder reminds us, sheer luck) it takes to succeed is difficult, but a worthy journey to undertake if you need to tell the story.

Peace (in the book),


The Silence of a Snow Day: A Tapestry Story

(Note: I wrote the story in this post during last snow day. Today, we have yet another, reminding me that I never posted this one. — Kevin)
Tapestry story
During a Snow Day when I was home but my wife and kids were not (I work in another district), I explored this story site called Tapestry, and created this story. The site works by advancing the story along with a click of the screen (or a tap if you use the App). There’s a certain beauty to having words unfold like that (although you can’t go back once you’ve started, unless you begin from the beginning).

Peace (in stories slowly unfolding),



Slice of Life: A Little Madness

This is for Slice of Life. The NCAA comes around every Slice of Life, so I feel a bit as if I have posted this before, although it was last year (and the year before that). This year, neither my local team (UMass) nor my favorite team (UConn) are in the mix, so I feel a bit removed from the emotional drama of March Madness. Still, I got my brackets ready.

Peace (on the court),

We are … the … Sizzling Smurfs!

We are into Quidditch season right now and each sixth grade class gets to vote on a team name. We do it as open as possible, and the voting takes place over a few rounds (sort of like a Town Meeting election). First, we generate a list, and then we go through a series of votes to narrow things down, before finally ending up with a team name.

This year, they voted for …. The Sizzling Smurfs. (You should know that our class color is blue and the girls in my class as the leaders.)

I sort of like The Blue Eyed Peas, myself, but I don’t vote. They do.

Here is where we started:
quidditch name1

Here is where we ended up:
quidditch name2
Now, on to the games …

Peace (in blueland),