Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Napoleon Dynamite's Mad Skills

I love Napoleon Dynamite.  It’s one of my favorite movies (I know, I’m showing my age). For me, one of the funniest moments is when Napoleon worries about his chances with a girl. Here’s how it goes.

Napoleon Dynamite: Well, nobody's going to go out with *me*!
Pedro: Have you asked anybody yet?
Napoleon Dynamite: No, but who would? I don't even have any good skills.
Pedro: What do you mean?
Napoleon Dynamite: You know, like numchuk skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills... Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills!

While Napoleon is right, most girls really do want boyfriends with great skills (although I’m not sure about the nunchuck skills) , I also know that our country really wants citizens with great skills.

The bow hunting skills are optional. The civic literacy skills are not optional.

That’s why my recent “ah-ha” really made sense.

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a PD session with the folks who wrote and reviewed the items for the Civics End Of Course exam from the State of Florida DOE and other associated groups.

Here is my take-away:

The Civics EOC is a READING TEST.

The kids need literacy skills in social studies.


By extension, the high school US History EOC is a reading test, too. So are the DDEOCs that our district has modeled after the state EOCs.

Let me say it again.  The EOC is a reading test.

Listen to the logic behind it.

  1. The test is only roughly 20% of low level items. That means, only 20% of the test is a trivia question. The other 80% is about thinking. Civic thinking and civic reading.
  2. Roughly 55-65% of the questions are stimulus-based. That means that more than half of the questions require the kids to read a piece of text or an image or a chart or a map and make some sense of it. That requires reading skills.
  3. There is only one question -- maybe two, at best -- on each benchmark. Your kids can’t become content masters enough to KNOW the right answer to everything. They would have to be the best Trivial Pursuit players in the world. What will better help them are context and reading skills.

The hardest part for Civics teachers -- and high school US History teachers, and everyone else who has an test that resembles the state EOCs -- is to teach reading and civic skills as much (or more than) the recall-level stuff.

And it makes sense, if you think about it.

It’s not really just about the test.

I want my students to become good, able citizens.

  • I want the students in my class to become citizens who can read the newspaper and who can read the ballot language and who can make informed decisions. They have to have civic literacy to do this. They’ve GOT to be able to read to do those things.

  • They have to be able to examine sourcing information to determine how to frame the source, whether the source is Donald Trump or the White House Press secretary or the Largo City Council or St. Pete Preservation  or someone’s mom.

*Note. Someone’s mom is no less valid than the white house press secretary. I just need to know so I can use context.

  • They have to be able to wade through some of the crazy language used on petitions and ballots.

So, no, we’re not teaching to the test. Well, ok, we are, but the test happens to ask for skills that we want good citizens to have.

The Civics EOC is a reading test. So is the US EOC. So are the DD-EOCs.

Reading historically and civically is the responsibility of social studies teachers.  

The National Council for the Social Studies calls it the C-3 framework -- preparing students for College, Career and Civic Life.

If you need help with that, check out my eLearning page or talk to your literacy coach or email me .

If you need help with Napoleon’s bow staff skills or computer-hacking skills, call someone else.  Maybe Pedro or Kip can help.

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