Monday, November 28, 2011

Did you know about this?

My normal source for clip art is  Today it's experiencing some problems, so I google searched what I was looking for (in this case, a fork.  No, a fork onna tha table.)  And I found this: Clipart ETC.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Teacher evaluations in public

In my local rag, Julie Mack blogs about (among other things) education issues.   In a recent post, she recapped the comments of an earlier post about Michigan's new "evaluate all teachers!" commission.  I know I promised I wouldn't read the comments in local rag articles, because they never serve to do anything but infuriate me.  But I was reading a blog post.  About comments.  And it infuriated me.

Generally, the tone of the comments were critical of the notion that the educommittee didn't contain any current educators, but did manage to find room for an administrator of the National Heritage Academies.  That's a criticism I share.

Much of the debate about teacher evaluation centers around the role of test scores: How much of how good a teacher is should be determined by how well her students do on a written test which will either, because of the huge numbers involved, be graded by a computer or "read" for, on average, two minutes?  The problem with this is obvious and have been rehashed time and again.  Too much of the outcome of one-off assessments are dependent on factors which teachers cannot effect.  Is the test a good one?  Did the student eat breakfast that morning?  Get enough sleep the night before?  What's the student's motivation for doing well on the test?  Did the student's teacher last year do her job?  Who is writing the test, what's their motivation, and what are they REALLY testing?

In response to these legitimate concerns, in the comments of her post, Mack comments legitimately that teachers are not the only profession who are evaluated using formulas designed by non-practitioners, using metrics beyond the control of the practitioners.  She cites her own profession as an example.  I'm not sure what her motivations for saying this is.  In context, she seems to be saying, "Everybody else is putting up with it, and so am I, and so should you."  It detracts from the notion that teachers specifically are under attack, but the easy response to that is, will her evaluation be codified in state law?  But the relative victimhood of teachers isn't really the point.  Mack's comments should increase our awareness of the fact that, increasingly, the decision makers of the world want to see data about efficacy, and sometimes, their idea of data has no actual bearing on our effectiveness at our job.  The pushback (or feedback, or collaboration, or negotiation, or however you phrase it--the distinctions between them is the subject for another time) against this practice should be intense, wherever it comes up.  I say this not in the spirit of contrariness, but in the spirit of best practice.  If these evaluations are going to help practitioners get better, then they absolutely must reflect the outcomes we want to see.  They should also carry with them the recognition that we don't necessarily know yet everything we want to see.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Today in world language news

1.)  The NBPTS's daily e-mail included a link to this article.  It talks about an online game that a teacher uses to teach Latin.  It sounds like exactly the kind of thing I dreamed about doing: technology and immersive language learning.  There is a link inside the article to the Pericles group, who is making the website.  I hope to learn more about it; if somebody is doing this sort of work, I'm going to want to keep on top of it.  I wouldn't know, however, whether I would want to use something somebody else made, or whether I'd want to help them make it.

2.)  I've decided that next year, at the MiWLA conference, I'm going to apply to present a session:  Using cell phones in the language class.  I think I do pretty well at this, but ultimately the purpose would be self-serving.  I'd hope somebody would get up in the middle of the presentation and say, "This is stupid.  We've been doing this for years, and this is what I'm doing it which is SOOOO much better than what you're doing."  That would be awesome.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mistakes I make...

which my students could probably learn from.

I started writing an essay comparing and contrasting community and tribalism in my classroom.  I breezed through the introduction because I knew what I wanted to say and how I intended to say it, and started rocking through the second paragraph.  I stopped and re-read it, and somehow my earnest if uninformed essay about sociological structures had turned into a tongue-in-cheek review of the movie The Breakfast Club.

What I was missing is consistency--in this case, consistency of both subject and tone.  (I get playing with tone in a single piece; I'm pretty good at it.  So I know what I'm saying when I say that this was an inappropriate shift in tone.)  Everything I'd written was good, and they're similar in subject matter, but the movie critique (spoiler: the movie does not come out looking good.) has no place in the paper I'd set out to write.  When I tell my students, "Only make your paper about one thing," this is what I'm talking about.

The way I usually achieve consistency in subject in my formal writing is by using some kind of pre-writing device.  I like graphic organizers, and have come across some doozies in my brief but eventful time as an English teacher.  (I've also come across some real crap.  Shaping a Venn diagram like an apple and an orange may make a good visual gag for about 3 seconds, but it doesn't change the fact that Venn diagrams are bad pre-writing organizers.  I wish I were making this example up.)  Choosing a graphic organizer based on my intent for the piece helps me decide on the ultimate structure of the writing.  It also helps me stay on course throughout the pretty long and sometimes tedious process of actually writing the work.  It's like building a building: you pick a frame based on what you want the building to be, and then you build that.  From there, you add all the necessary bits to make it a house, and not just a neatly-stacked pile of girders.  If you have something cool that you want to explore further, that's fine.  The house still needs a shed, or a garage, or perhaps an interactive art installation.  But please at least consider the possibility that the middle of the living room may not be the best place for it.

The way I achieve consistency in my informal writing, like this blog post, is mostly I don't worry so much about it.  I keep it short, and if I have crap that doesn't actually support my original thesis (for example, I'm terrified of zombies and velociraptors, and have made significant life decisions based on the need to protect myself from them.  When the time comes, I hope the raptors go after the zombies.), I don't worry too much about it.  After all, this isn't intended to be a high-quality, published work.  If ever I turn it into one, I will engage in significant re-writes, in some places, probably starting from scratch.