Monday, October 5, 2015

Reflection on a Mindless Job

Early Friday morning, I observed a TSA worker doing a needed but very mindless job. The worker stood in front of the random-generating arrow machine and pressed a button to change the arrow. Then, as it pointed either left or right, her hand motioned to the next airport ticket holder to follow in the right or left direction toward the indicated corral. "That could be my job, " I thought to myself. But not with a sarcastic tone. It could be...just looking and pointing and not thinking. Frankly, at 5:02am in the morning, after spending 18 days teaching where I am constantly making decisions all day long, this thought felt pretty appealing. But just for a brief moment. In reality, I think I'd go crazy if I had such a mindless job. I like to think. I like to create. I like to interact with others in ways that help them to grow, not just move to an indicated spot.

Then I realized something. As I say at school, "I have a connection." Seeing this TSA worker wave her hand to match the random arrow, I thought about the Online PALS assessment I just administered to my 3rd graders.  During the one-on-one assessment, a word appeared on my screen and the child read it. If it was read correctly, my right hand pressed the right arrow. If incorrect, the left arrow. Then with my left hand, I pressed the spacebar and the next word appeared. Mindlessly, I inputted their word reading. Then the computer tallied and scored and assigned a reading passage for the student to read and I completed an online running record. as each student read to me.

I get why someone thought an online reading assessment should be created. But after completing 22 of them and printing out the summary sheet that looks so orderly with a list of numbers, I feel more in a robot coma. I need to snap out of it. I need to think. I need to create a reading workshop classroom where we are all readers, growing to become stronger readers.

I'm a Reading Specialist, according to the certificate I went back to school to earn in 2004. At that time I got good at listening to students read, as I took a running record by hand, using mostly the DRA. For me, this one-on-one task done by hand was just the beginning of the assessment. Once I finished, the important part began - the thinking. "Now what?" I'd ask myself and then implement just what that reader needed to learn or practice based on the assessment. And then I planned creative ways to grow each reader.

For a brief moment this morning, while waiting to get through airport security, I contemplated having the mindless airport job. Then once on the plane, I pulled out two Horrible Harry books from my backpack before placing it under the seat. I have four students that I grouped together based on their PALS assessment data to form a "Horrible Harry" book club. And I will spent the next hour, while flying to Chicago, planning out a way to grow these readers using these books.

I like to think. I like to create. I especially like teaching reading and writing in 3rd grade this year. The online assessment may have caused me to act like a robot while administering it. But now comes the best part - the part where I respond to my "Now what? pondering.


  1. Great analogy Sally! Your post reminds me of Fran's! She had the same reaction. Now what? and So what? Thank goodness your kiddos have you to do the real work that's necessary grow readers! Thank goodness you love to create.

    So glad to hear your voice on Tuesdays!

  2. This is a wonderful analogy, Sally! The assessment is a starting point, and now the art of teaching begins!

  3. Thanks for "thinking" and coming up with the "possibilities" that your "Horrible Harry" readers will need!

    We have to look (and sometimes pretty darn hard) to find the gems that are hidden beneath some of the required tasks!