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Teaching To The Child Rather Than To The Test

Amy Valens (right) with Jim La Prad

The Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” That pretty well sums up the thinking behind a concept often referred to as progressive education.

One of the concept's biggest advocates is Amy Valens. Her final year in the classroom is the subject of the documentary film August to June, which was screened at Western Illinois University.

Valens' class at a school in northern California included a combination of third and fourth graders. Even though the film was made just a few years ago, computers do not play a major role in the school.

“I think there's a very important place for children to understand how to use digital media and how to use computers for research and to do various kinds of presentations with their work,” Valens said.

“But I think that school is a time when kids need to be social -- to be interacting with each other -- (and) be working with actual materials rather than virtual materials.”

Valens did not give grades to her students. She said she was in close contact with each child every day. She asked them questions, responded to their questions, and employed various methods to track their growth.

Valens said direct contact with students was much more useful to her than standardized tests, which she said provided limited use to her in the classroom.

“Most of our tests are made to find out who doesn't know rather than who knows,” Valens said. “Besides the fact that every child learns at a different rate, the tests themselves are not geared to giving you a real reflection of what you've taught.”

Valens said there is no such thing as an “average child.” She said each student is different.

Valens thinks the real goal of education should be to engender creative, empathetic, and productive citizens of a democracy.  

Progressive education allows for parental involvement in the classroom.  Valens said she encouraged parents to contribute.

“For that parent, that child is the most important thing. To isolate them from the classroom seems wrong.”

Valens has lived in the same community for almost 40 years. She finds it rewarding to serve on committees that are headed by former students.

“And we have a conversation where I can respect them as adults and learn from them. That is just such a marvelous feeling,” Valens said.

Valens was brought to Macomb by Dr Jim La Prad, Associate Professor of Educational and Interdisciplinary Studies at WIU.


Rich is TSPR's News Director.