Accommodating PARCC in the Year of the Goat

kids cuspAccording to the Chinese zodiac, people born in the Year of the Goat (or Sheep or Ram), are calm, gentle, creative, thoughtful, persevering, frank, and honest. These are all attributes I aspire to achieve as a teacher. People born in the Year of the Goat are said to be best-suited for careers like teaching.

I was not feeling calm or gentle two weeks ago, while contemplating the upcoming PARCC testing and how it is affecting my teaching. Then again, I was born in the Year of the Horse.

Year of the Goat 300People born in the Year of the Horse are described as active, energetic, kind, optimistic, straightforward, and rational. These are also attributes I aspire to possess. The most important one right now, however, is calm (I’m hoping to borrow some from the goat).

I am not effective when my calm, my Zen, is off-balance. The Zen sect of Buddhism is not part of my traditional Irish heritage, but I aspire to reach a state of “Irish Zen.” This is defined as a general state of calm and peace acquired through meditation.

PARCC Panic stole my peace for a little while. It’s time to get back on the Horse.

Borrowing From Other Cultures

Combining a little Eastern philosophy with a little Irish spunk has helped restore a little bit of sanity. There is a sense of calm emerging. It started last week.

The insights, expertise, and opinions of those around me help me find a level of balance between how to deal with the reality of PARCC, and still be an effective teacher.

When I have a little Zen, I can find creative ways to handle the PARCC (or SBCS) assessment balancing act that is being performed in schools across the country. The circumstances in each state may be different, but, calm isn’t the word I would currently choose on a standardized test to describe any of those circumstances.

The Zen of Good Teaching and State Mandates

Tree and it's roots in yin yang symbolCan we reconnect with our roots and find a healthy balance? Good teachers pay attention to the atmosphere, the level of Zen in their classrooms. In order to regain a sense of calm, they need to adjust their teaching to find some balance between authentic learning, standardized testing, and plain old fun.

Thankfully, there are a lot of good teachers out there. They calm the storm and refresh the school, as we face (or opt out of) participation in the new PARCC testing or SBAC tests.

The teaching professionals that I work with are dedicated to the kids. They don’t like what is going on in Big Government, but they are passionate about the kids who are entrusted to their care.

As I search for a kind of teaching Nirvana, I seek out the help of the professionals in my school as well as some people I don’t know, the educators and professionals I am finding through Internet discoveries. These two forces are helping me regain my balance.

The Yin of a recent professional development day, and the Yang of some online resources, were passed on to my students during our recent celebration of Chinese New Year.

It started without the kids, though. It started with a three-hour PARCC training session held recently. The kids had a four-day weekend (to find a little Zen for themselves), while the faculty members of my school met to sort through the latest updates and resources we could use as we prepare to administer the PARCC test.

PARCC Prep for Teachers

The presentation was given by our principal and planned by several staff members. Each contributed his or her own expertise (if that isn’t some sort of oxymoron when it comes to knowledge of PARCC procedures – we haven’t figured them all out yet, but we are beginning to become “enlightened” about some of the technical components of the test).

The training session began with a PowerPoint presentation, given by Trista Pollard, one of our in-house tech gurus. Trista’s dedication to the kids motivated her to find a training video, made by yet another dedicated educator. It is a free, online resource for all educators, and it certainly helped me wrap my head around how I was supposed to administer the test.

The frigid air blowing around in my head began to subside. My horse’s optimism started to return. I went into the weekend with a clear objective: Find ways to do PARCC-like activities with a Chinese New Year theme, while I keep in mind what good teaching is.

Eastern Philosophy & Culture Meet “PARCC Skills”

It only took a little clicking around (and two cups of coffee) to find a variety of non-fiction reading selections about China. I chose a group of articles from to give the kids a flavor for Chinese history, language and art. A simple Word document, a copy machine, and an online translator were not hard things to use to create our “Chinese New Year Reading Workshop Selections” packet. (Here’s my cover sheet.)

The kids were encouraged to choose a topic of interest, to highlight cool facts they found in the articles, and to jot down any ideas, questions, or thoughts in the margins.

They enjoy interacting with texts this way. It’s less binding, less forced.

Celebrating Chinese New Year with a New Attitude

San Francisco children celebrate Chinese New Year

San Francisco children celebrate Chinese New Year

Our Chinese New Year week went well. The simple packet of reading selections served as an anchor activity during a four-day week, which included two mornings of “Practice PARCC Testing Simulations.”

These reading selections enabled me to use the afternoons as a motivator to read for the sake of reading, to read to learn new things, and to share discoveries with those around you.

I found meaningful homework assignments on ReadWorks, a reading comprehension site. It’s another amazing (and free) resource that provided age-appropriate reading selections and related questions that focus on “PARCC-like” skills. I found a great one about a modern family who traveled to the sites of Ancient China (no link here – you have to register to gain access to these selections).

ElChino cvrWe also read El Chino, by Allen Say, to connect the past and the present, using narrative non-fiction. This story helped us use a vertical timeline as a note-taking skill for both sequence and cause-and-effect writing, and to use signal words and phrases like “shortly after” and “as a result” to discuss and write about the life of Billy Wong, a famous Chinese matador. Billy Wong sure found a creative way to combine cultures and break barriers!

Using Google’s online translator to print our names in traditional Chinese characters helped us explore Chinese Art, as we painted and decorated fans, focusing carefully on their intricate design and beauty.

We read the ancient fable about the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac and their race for first place (ironic that even in ancient cultures, the “Race to the Top” was a measure of success and therefore hierarchy).

Chinese New Year ANIMALS

Click to download a PPT of The Story of the Jade Emperor & the Great Race

And another collection of materials tells the story in a different way, with the Buddha taking the leader’s role.

Putting Aside PARCC for a Chinese Feast

As a culminating activity to our week of celebrating Chinese New Year (and the end of practice PARCC simulations), the entire fourth grade had take-out delivered. At 11:45, multiple trays of lo mein, chicken and broccoli, fried rice, and sweet and sour chicken arrived at the front office.

The Chinese New Year promises good luck. The teaching team I am lucky enough to work with arranged the buffet line in the gym, distributing placemats, napkins, and chop sticks to the tables our wonderful custodians had set up for the kids.

Just under 100 people were able to relax after a week spent trying to balance test procedures with authentic learning. And we had the good fortune to enjoy yet another aspect of Chinese culture.

I hope the Year of the Goat is one in which we can all stay on “The Path” of authentic teaching, learning, and assessment.

Gong Hey Fat Choi!


Images: Deposit Photos

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and visit her personal blog (launched in 2021) Behind the Doors of the Teacher's Room for some adult conversation.

1 Response

  1. I just wanted to give a thank you to Paul Pineiro at our Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Programs…Trista informed me that he is the one who found the PARCC instructional video and sent it over to her…Thanks, Paul!

    And this just in…a bill to delay the use of PARCC results for students (and teachers) until 2018 has passed in one legislative house in NJ. It is now awaiting discussion in the state Senate…We shall see…

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