Saturday, November 3, 2012

Testing, Identity, & My Kids

I just finished the testing required to be a licensed teacher in the state of Texas.  It's been so long since I was subjected to a test environment that it was a bit surreal, but I knew the feelings and greeted them as old friends.  When I got back to the house (a friend in Lubbock is hosting me while I'm here) I reflected on the fact that as a Dad I get to paint some of my kids' identity for them.  

You have seen Dads do this in negative ways "You'll probably grow up and wind up in a dead-end job like me," and in positive ways "You are a champion, son.  That's just the way you are."  I try to be intentional about it--here are some IDENTITY BUILDERS you'd hear around the Chase household:
  • You're the kind of kid everyone wants to have on their LEGO Robotics team--if there's something you don't understand, you go after it until you get it.
  • I am so impressed with the way you handled that situation.  You're going to be one heck of a Dad when you grow up.
  • Look at you!  You are training yourself to be such a high-capacity person.  Everyone is going to want to have you come work for them--partnering to develop new and creative things.  I'm so pleased.
I tell them that I'm pleased with them a lot, but I try to also help them build their identity.  Don Miller (Blue Like Jazz) would say I'm helping them tell a better story.

Okay.  The point is that one piece of identity that I tell them is that they are AWESOME test takers.  I've been telling them this for years, and they still have 5 years to go before they see their first PSAT.  Today I wrote my kids an email that they may or may not read before I get home, but when I get back to Oregon I'll read it to them.  It's designed to paint their identity and give them practical advice on how to test well.

Here it is:
Well, kids, you'd have been proud of me.  I took a book to the testing site (though I forgot a #2 pencil and had to borrow one!) and sat and waited nearly an hour before my group was called and we went into the testing room.

They checked my ID and gave me the bubble-sheet to fill in, and I put the book (it's a good one by Donald Miller--I want you to read it when you're teenagers) under my desk.  I could feel nervousness trying to creep in, so I assumed a large body position.  I made some jokes with the two people next to me, too, and that helped break the tension we all felt.

It was a test where you were allowed to write in the test booklet but the real answers were all to go on the bubble sheet.  So I whizzed through the test booklet and ignored the bubble sheet until the end.  I kept my pencil under the words I was reading, but moved it quickly so I didn't get bogged down by words I wasn't as familiar with.  Because my pencil kept moving, I got the gist of the question quickly and could either go back and read the specific words in the question or move on down to read the four answers.

If I thought B was the right choice, I made a slight mark next to it but kept reading through all the choices.  Usually I was right and just circled the original letter and mark, but sometimes I was presented with two options that both looked about right.  If that happened, I immediately confirmed that the other two were false distractors and put a slash through those letters.  That left me with the two choices, and I re-read them both and contemplated them for 20 seconds max.  If one seemed a clear winner, I chose it.  If I couldn't decide, I made a box around the whole problem and moved on to the next.

Got the 100-problem test done in 50 minutes, then went back and started filling in bubbles.  I had a strategy for this, too.  My left hand was in the testing booklet, and I pointed to the number and then to the circled answer and mouthed the words "23, C" then looked over at my right hand and repeated 23, C as I filled in the bubble.  There have been too many tragedies where someone filled in a whole test one-bubble-off.

When I came to a problem with a square around it--one that I hadn't already been able to answer--I re-read it with fresh eyes and examined any answers that I hadn't already crossed out.  I didn't sweat it, but I took my best guess and went on with the bubble-filling-in-game.  Out of 100, there were 3 or 4 that I really had no idea about.  One of them was asking me how big of a font (in points) would be needed to fill a 2-pica space in a newsletter layout.  The options were 20, 24, 30, & 36 points.  Which would you choose, if you had an internet connection to help you?  I guessed correctly, as I found out when I got back to the house.

I got to the end, thanked the girl next to me for the loan of the pencil, and left the testing room.  I hadn't rechecked a single answer.  I test cool, collected, and brilliantly.

I tell you all this because you are my kids, and when you get to the high-stakes testing, you are going to test cool, collected, and brilliantly.  Other kids may get all worked up about testing and they choke, but you go the other direction--into cool, smooth efficiency.  

You know already that I'm proud of you.  I think if you'd been able to watch me testing today you'd have been proud of me, too.  Love you guys; see you tomorrow night.


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