Friday, November 19, 2010

Meaningful Assessment

Anybody that works in my school has heard this lament before.  Why is it that, as a basketball referee, I'll be evaluated at least ten times during a season, but my teaching has been evaluated twice in 11 years?

This week, I'll write an officiating test (50 yes/no questions about rules of the game; I need over 85% to qualify for national tournaments, or something like that), but every referee knows the value of this test is limited -- anybody can pass a test by memorizing rules, but can they implement them fairly, accurately, and correctly while people are screaming at them about their genetic deficiencies?  That's why we're evaluated during games, repeatedly, by different people who bring different perspectives to the practice.  Immediately after each game, the evaluator(s) provided critical feedback, identifying perceived strengths as well as a couple of areas they would like to see improved (strategies for improvement are available upon request).  They will also complete an evaluation form that, hopefully, includes the same concepts discussed post-game, and their suggestions for advancement or remediation.

Screw the test, but can you imagine the effect on teaching if we knew we'd be evaluated 10 times in a school-year, by several different people who each stayed with our classes for entire periods (days even); then sat down with us to give immediate feedback about our strengths and weaknesses?  What if we had several written evaluations to compare at the end of the year, each of which examined our teaching from individual, professional perspectives?  Wouldn't it make the feedback and evaluation our students receive even more meaningful to them, if they saw us experiencing the same?  Imagine if the people giving us feedback weren't evaluators, but our peers (especially those in our own buildings) -- wouldn't it be neat to regularly share our teaching practices with our friends and compatriots, or would it make you uncomfortable to be critiqued by someone you respect and saw drunk at a staff party once?  Either way, aren't the benefits clear?

Too bad Education's an expense, not an investment, though.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Shadow Scholar -- Am I Part of the Problem

I was drawn to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled The Shadow Scholar via several blogs in my Google Reader feed.  The Educated Reporter dared me to read it "without feeling a little ill," especially since "education students are among his most frequent clients, unfortunately."  I wasn't ill -- does that make me a bad person?  Thoughts on Education Policy bothered me a great deal more by asking "wouldn't it be more productive if we instead focused on fixing the problem?"  I have to admit, I'm not sure if I'm not part of the problem.

While I take great pride in my efforts to develop the writing skills and academic ethics of my students, especially in regard to issues of plagiarism, I must admit I'm much less inclined to severely sanction the student I catch "cheating."  Generally, my high school students avoid cheating (I think), but when they do they're not very good at it; a quick google search generally reveals their intellectual transgressions.  In the past, I was quick to slap a zero on the paper and chastise them for their criminality with all sorts of horrible threats of university-level repercussions and a lifetime of shame.  Now, I prefer to record their assignment incomplete (still a zero) until they complete the assignment "honestly," using their references to support their ideas and properly citing the same sources.  I also spend much more time with students on formatting sources (during our introduction/review of digital citizenship) and properly embedding their references in their writing.  Also, e-mails and texts (and now tweets) from recent graduates have uniformly expressed gratitude for making them master the basics of researching a wide variety of sources and properly citing them in their work -- one student wrote, in a text, "that crap you made us learn has been very useful."  However, I am still left to wonder if they're honest or just well-versed because they invariably also lament the uselessness of their course-work in university, suggesting a loss of intellectual curiosity.

It's hard to evaluate how effectively I have embedded a respect for intellectual property in my students, and (much more importantly) how seriously they will take the love of learning they showed me in my classroom to their post-secondary studies. 

I sit here now, a bit shaken.  How can I be sure that one of my main objectives, a love of learning, is being achieved beyond the walls of my classroom?  I remember, myself, the struggle it was to remain curious about literature and history when so many of my professors seemed intent on crushing any attempts to deviate from the curricular norm.  I don't mean to blame universities, but am I missing something important in my gloomy vision?