How to turn a ‘Test’ into a ‘Celebration of Learning’

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Sometimes I am called an optimist, an idealist, or just disconnected with reality.  Usually a comment like that emerges after I “confess” I have never given a test or quiz, yet I have been a teacher/teacher educator for 15 years. Instead I like to give “learning celebrations” (a term I was given by an all-time great teacher, Joe Dye, from Janesville Parker High School).  It is then that  I usually hear a groan accompanied by a roll of the eyes.  But then I make the point that tests are about finding out what a person doesn’t know but a learning celebration is about celebrating whatever has been learned.  One is seeking the deficit while the other is celebrating the asset.

Obviously there is more to it then just replacing the word at the top of a piece of paper, and that is exactly what I was able to share at the Spring Summit of Teach for America-Mississippi.  We discussed how to design learning experiences that achieve their visions for their classrooms and the students within.  It was a fast and furious session with a lot of resources mentioned (which I will list below as well as a link to my slides from the talk).  The main point was to consider why we step into the classroom, why we are doing what we do (Know the ‘Why?’) and let that drive the development of the techniques and strategies that we employ within the classroom (Now the ‘How?’).  In other words we are turning the optimistic vision into real, tested, and refined strategies for loving our students through education.

Resources mentioned:

Amidon, J. (2013). Teaching mathematics as agape : Responding to oppression with unconditional love. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 6(1), 19–27. Retrieved from

Amidon, J., & Trevathan, M. (2015). Supporting progressive mathematics instruction through community. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 21(5), 288-294.

Cohen, E. G. (1994). Designing groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom. Teachers College Press.

Emdin, C. (2013). The rap cypher, the battle, and reality pedagogy: Developing communication and argumentation in urban science education. In M. L. Hill & E. Petchauer (Eds.), Schooling hip hop: Expanding hip-hop based education across the curriculum (pp. 11–27). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lampert, M. (2001). Teaching problems and the problems of teaching. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reinhart, S. (2000). Never say anything a kid can say. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 5(8), 54-57.

Below is a link to the slides from my talk:

Amidon, J. (March, 2017) Not a Test but a Celebration of Learning! Designing Learning Experiences to Build Relationships with the Content. Session at Spring Summit of Teach for America – Mississippi. Cleveland, MS.

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