Yesterday, the BH and I took a drive down the Seward Highway toward Portage. It took about 2 hours to drive just 50 miles mostly because we kept pulling out to take photos of the clouds caressing the hills and crowning the peaks of the mountains. Every time we travelled just a few feet, we could see how much the scenery had changed. Light played off the clouds differently. Cracks of blue peeked out from the cloud cover. The range looked different from a new angle along the road. It made me stop and think about how some states use ONE snapshot to describe the totality of a child. In Texas, the snapshot is via the new (nearly half a billion dollar price tag) STAAR test. This replaced the TAKS which replaced the TAAS which replaced the TEAMS which replaced the TABS. Each time a replacement test was designed and administered, it means millions of dollars lost to instruction, salary, benefits, and the like. But the price tag is not what I want to focus on (and focus is something crucial to photography). I want to focus on the one snapshot fallacy. I deleted more photos yesterday from my photo stream because they did not nearly do justice to the landscape. And so it is with a single assessment no matter the tool being used. One snapshot cannot capture a child any more than one snapshot can capture a scene. We need many such snapshots to even begin to approximate the whole vista. And so I used my SpinCam app and Instagram and Cam Wow and even Toon Paints to try to create a slideshow of what we had seen along our brief drive. How about some more apps for assessing kids? Way back before TABS and TEAMS and TAAS and TAKS and STAAR, we had portfolios of student work: reading notebooks and writing binders and formal and informal assessments. Some were written, some were verbal. I could look back at work and conversations from the beginning of the year and compare them to more current work and make an informed assessment of student progress or lack thereof. Along the way I had many other snapshots to view as well.
I worry that we have reduced kids to the one snapshot, that we are not doing them justice. How can someone outside the classroom see the kids who sit in our classes and know them as well as we do? Do they know that Peter loves to read graphic novels and that his love for this format is doing so much to improve his reading? Do they see Jenny, who has struggled so much this year to find her voice as an author, come to me with a notebook filled with her newest stories? Do they see any of these kids for who they are and not just as a number (lexile, ATOS for instance)? And do they see me as a teacher or simply as a data point as well? Even in the ivy covered ivory towers of high ed, my teaching is being slowly reduced to data sets: the scores of my students on certification exams, the number of kids who register for our program and my classes, the number of articles I produce.
Again, I am preaching to the choir. If you are reading the blog, you already are more than just an avid photographer: you are the documentary film maker who steps out from behind the camera lens and sees the subject up close and personal, someone who cares about the fate of your subject, someone who wants to make sure others know how important the kids are to our future. As you head back into classrooms this year, take with you my paltry gift of thanks for all you do, my unending admiration of the important work you do, my absolute faith that YOU make a difference in the life of each and every kid you teach.