Beyond the Test: Some of the Best (Learning Experiences)


So we have arrived in the month of May, and the great summative assessment monster is being boxed up and sent back to its home, not to be battled with the slender, yellow, graphite-bearing swords again until about this time next year (unless, of course, we have opportunity to battle with keystrokes and mice in the near future). Though an expected barrage of field trip requests preceded the testing window, this year offers a few unique opportunities that get our students and teachers beyond their classrooms at Jere Whitson Elementary.


We have been blessed to have the opportunity for our entire Kindergarten through fourth grades to attend the Prescott South Middle School production of the acclaimed Annie, and though there was undeniable beauty in the performance of every musical number and lyrical line, the great beauty was experienced in the expressions on our students’ faces, many of whom had not previously attended a musical until last year, and many of whom looked enviously at the middle school actors as though they had the accolades of Broadway actors. The arts are important for creative expression, and this experience reinforced how important they are for the inspiration of younger students to engage in performance and ambitious endeavors.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B

A little farther from our home, our students in our school chorus, comprised of selected third and fourth grade students, earned an amazing opportunity to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and to tour Studio B. The students participated in a pancake breakfast fundraiser held on a Saturday morning at our school in order to demonstrate their investment and eagerness to experience a rich, music education experience. Again, the importance of the arts comes to life in a real and meaningful experience that our students will likely not forget. Our students had the opportunity to learn about the history of Studio B, to experience the wonders of music engineering, and to see the wondrous instruments, costumes, automobiles, and archived performances associated with some great country music artists.

The Great Shake

With emphasis year round on the importance of college and career readiness, we are pleased to host a wonderful experience envisioned and orchestrated by our Upper Cumberland Academic Career Coaches. The Great Shake and JWES Career Day drew from local professionals and community resources to engage all fourth grade students in many brief encounters with adults who care, during which they practiced the skills they had been developing over the past eight weeks during some of their library and counseling classes with their academic career coaches, including shaking hands, speaking articulately, and presenting information about themselves concisely and creatively. No standardized test can measure the impact of the experience, which is intended to shape young students into curious and ambitious learners who are increasingly more aware and capable of pursuing a diversity of higher education and career options.

TTU 4th Grade Visit Day 

An excursion that we pursued last year in an effort to provide greater awareness about post-secondary opportunities was a full day for students in our fourth grade to visit various parts of the Tennessee Technological University campus, with multiple departments of focus. Our students benefit from getting a closer look at the many facets that university life has to offer and recognize that Tennessee Technological University, which is a short walk away for most of them, is an accessible institution which offers a plethora of post-secondary possibilities. This year, our visit includes the following:

TTU iCUBE and iMakerspace

Hooper Eblen Center

College of Engineering Student Ambassadors

TTU School of Agriculture

TTU Music Department

Some Photos from Last Year’s Visit:


Last academic year, we set out to develop a space adjacent to our campus which we learned belonged to our school system as a venue for our students to explore, observe, and engage in agriculture education. Through generous contributions of various local partnerships, the Ag Lab now features various raised beds, a small greenhouse/shed, several weather measurement instruments, and a demonstration space for students to gather and record their observations. Our long-term goals for the Ag Lab range from exploring horticultural concepts and actively participating in planting and harvesting to the study of renewable resources and studying small animal life. With our official ribbon cutting scheduled for next Tuesday morning, we are excited about the potential of this great experiential venue for learning.


The only thing you won’t find in these photographs are students seated in conventional desks, prepping diligently for standardized assessments. What you will find are students engaged in the work and appreciation of the world in which they live, a world enriched by the arts, agriculture, and college and career possibilities. Though our aim is to increasingly make this possible throughout the academic year, we find it freeing to pursue these opportunities when we find that the confines of testing are lifted. Every day at Jere Whitson Elementary, we proclaim together, “Let’s prove we care,” and what better way is there to do so than to immerse our students in rich and relevant experiences that remind them that academics are important beyond grades and tests and are the basis for the application to various venues they may encounter, both today and tomorrow.

So this ends the series of BLOGs on “Testing is Over . . . What Now?” but it shouldn’t be the end of the conversation or opportunities for mutual inspiration. Make sure to check out the BLOGs/VLOG by my Twitter-connected PLN friends who participated earlier in the week, and engage with us on Twitter, especially on #TNEdchat and a variety of other Twitter conversations:






Also, check out the earlier posts, if you missed them:

Monday (May 1): Mick Shuran! His focus was on changing the mindset or culture of how it seems testing determines the end of school. No Alice Cooper, School’s Not Out for Summer…yet!

Tuesday (May 2): The illustrious Julie Davis, “ed-tech extraordinaire” and my closest connection to Julie Darling Donuts, shared her insight and tips on trying new things during this gray area of non-testing.

Wednesday (May 3): Tullahoma City Guru (and LTL Podcaster), Google great Christopher King shared his thoughts and ideas about ending the year by running stright through first base in a different format, a VLOG for all you visual and audial learners

Thursday (May 4): Social studies expert Jacob Dunn brought a current “in the classroom” perspective towards what we as educators can do after testing.

And, finally, whether you decided to celebrate this week or will celebrate next week as Teacher Appreciation Week 2017, I hope that you will join with fellow educators by providing sincere appreciation for what they do and how they touch the lives of students, families, and each of us as we persevere in our journey as educators.


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