27 February 2009

Back to Grading

While I have been in absentia, various articles about grading practices have been making their way to my inbox and RSS aggregator. Some of you sent along the link for an article in the New York Times concerning Students Expectations Seen as Cause of Grade Disputes. Interestingly enough, the piece draws from a study I blogged about at the end of December in terms of What It Means to Make the Effort. I do find it interesting that the college reps interviewed by the NYT seem to be pointing fingers at K-12 education (while the original study cited parents who make normative comparisons as the major factor). I doubt that colleges should be excused from the blame game here.

At Vanderbilt, there is an emphasis on what Dean Hogge calls “the locus of control.” The goal is to put the academic burden on the student.

“Instead of getting an A, they make an A,” he said. “Similarly, if they make a lesser grade, it is not the teacher’s fault. Attributing the outcome of a failure to someone else is a common problem.”

Additionally, Dean Hogge said, “professors often try to outline the ‘rules of the game’ in their syllabi,” in an effort to curb haggling over grades.

Professor Brower said professors at Wisconsin emphasized that students must “read for knowledge and write with the goal of exploring ideas.”

This informal mission statement, along with special seminars for freshmen, is intended to help “re-teach students about what education is.”
Hmmmm....perhaps the rules of the game are leading to the haggling in the first place? Perhaps colleges should rethink their grading practices and make them in line with the mission of education? I wonder if profs at Wisconsin value reading for knowledge and writing with the goal of exploring ideas enough to not grade those behaviors? I don't care what age or ability level a teacher is targeting, if you set up the policies such that performance is valued over learning, then that is what you will get.

Meanwhile, on-line grade reporting is rearing its ugly head again. A web-based system for communicating with parents and students about course progress would seem like a desirable item. The more I travel and talk to teachers, however, the more I find that it is not of benefit because the inflexibility of the software. Teachers would like to report incomplete assignments, revise categories to reflect standards, and hide averages. Instead, they are stuck with tools that inaccurately represent student achievement and are forced by districts to use them. Now, Education Week reports "A number of Maryland schools in the D.C. suburbs and beyond are installing online grading systems so students and their parents know exactly what their test scores and grades are almost instantaneously. But parents and school officials acknowledge monitoring the daily e-mails and fluctuations can be addictive and obsessive even as it prevents surprises and offers help for failing students before it's too late." The article goes on to mention what amounts to point-whoring on the part of both parents and students---the value of the decimal over the learning. What a world of difference vendors could make if they just had an option to hide the average grade and just show scores on assignments (and incomplete work).

I also think that we have to get away from viewing grades along a bell curve. If our goal is for every child to learn and meet standard...shouldn't be okay if all of them pass a class? I'd think that worthy of celebration. Arkansas lawmakers, however, do not. Or perhaps they're just a bit mixed up on the whole idea.
Lawmakers working on a bill creating lottery-funded scholarships said Thursday they're considering easing a restriction that would exclude students who graduate from schools that have been cited by the state for grade inflation.

Draft legislation releaed this week said the lottery-funded scholarship program would exclude students who graduate from high schools cited by the Education Department as schools where 20 percent or more of the students receive a grade of "B'' or higher but did not pass the end-of-course assessment on first attempt. The students, however, would be eligible if they scored at least 19 on the ACT.

Or maybe I'm the one who is mixed up here. Let me see if I am understanding this correctly. Legislators are going to punish kids because schools didn't have curriculum/instruction/assessments that aligned with state standards and therefore the course outcomes and end-of-course assessment scores didn't match...and we're going to call this "grade inflation"?

I worry about the possibility of end-of-course exams for science in Washington. This is partly due to all of the unanswered questions about what happens when course grades and end-of-course test scores don't line up. I don't expect scholarship questions to come up as much as course credit. Does a student who can meet standard on the test (but doesn't pass the class) get credit? What about those who ace the class and can't pass the test? A few years ago when I ran a summer program for high school kids who needed some supplementary test prep, I remember a particularly angry parent who called me. She was made because her daughter had an "A" on her report card for her English class...and the girl's score on the state test was abysmal. Mom wanted to know how that could happen. The suggestion that the teacher was perhaps not addressing the standards did not go over well with the parent---and for good reason. With mandated end-of-course exams, I wonder how many phone calls just like that one will be headed in the direction of schools?

I hope you all had a good week. Now that I'm back and have caught up at work, I hope to get caught up in this space, too. Hang in there!

21 February 2009

Making Time

As I'm out and and about talking with teachers, one of the common things secondary schools are struggling with is how to deal with interventions. Elementary classrooms have approached interventions with much more finesse for years. The problem at secondary is twofold. First is the issue of what to do. At the secondary level, we're more or less inclined to teach a unit of study, give the test, and if kids flunk, we just move on. We typically don't do so well with going back to revisit things. Now that teachers are becoming more attuned to the concept of remediation, we're looking for curriculum and strategies that will support this. The second part of the problem concerns time. Elementary classrooms have more flexibility with time blocks, while secondary is typically stuck in a 6-period day. A teacher has 50 minutes or so to tackle whatever instructional needs there are and then the kids are gone.

I am starting to hear about creative solutions at secondary to address the issue of time. Some teachers are collaborating and combining classes for regrouping. Others are looking to their elementary peers for ideas about workshop models and grouping within a given block of time. But what if we brought back Study Hall? And instead of the end of the day (when brains and bodies are tired), we built it in as part of the schedule for teachers and students? There will be some that use the system for learning...and others who will use the system to get our for a smoke or snack (as this WaPo article suggests), but could schools adjust this beginning idea to help move all kids forward? Are there pockets of time each day we could better use for student learning and/or teacher collaboration?

20 February 2009

Talking Teachers

What do you think about these apples?

Science Daily is reporting "a study of 18,000 biology, chemistry and physics students has uncovered notable gender bias in student ratings of high school science teachers. Researchers at Clemson University, the University of Virginia and Harvard University have found that, on average, female high school science teachers received lower evaluations than their male counterparts even though male and female teachers are equally effective at preparing their students for college...'The importance of these findings is that they make it clear that students have developed a specific sense of gender-appropriate roles in the sciences by the end of high school,' said Geoffrey Potvin, assistant professor of engineering and science education and the department of mathematical sciences at Clemson."

At the high school I taught at, we always had equal numbers of men and women in the science department...and far more girls enrolled in upper level science courses than boys. But what happened in college in terms of pursuing studies in the sciences is unknown. Does the prevalence of white male tv scientists (Mr. Wizard, Bill Nye, Mythbusters...) reinforce a long held social stereotype? Is it important that we change things?

Some teachers in Washington state are upset by a bill introduced this legislative session which would remove the traditional salary schedule for teachers---the one that includes more pay for more education. I haven't read the bill, but the idea is interesting. So is the proposal by Alabama's governor to divide the teaching profession into levels: apprentice teacher, classroom teacher, pro­fessional teacher, master teach­er and learning designer. The idea is to "afford ex­cellent teachers with profes­sional pathways that advance their careers without making them leave the classroom." Quality over longevity (although the two can easily co-exist)? Is this opportunity for teachers to grow in their practice over the years...or a slap in the face to the tenure system?

Speaking of teacher quality, there's this article in Education Week:
A push in national circles for states to align their human-capital management systems strategically with goals for recruiting and retaining effective teachers hasn’t yet trickled down to the states, an analysis of state teacher policies reveals.

Released today by the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, the analysis contends that many states have set compensation policies that may actually work at cross-purposes to building a strong teacher workforce. Additionally, by putting into place vague guidelines around teacher-evaluation and tenure-granting processes, states are complicit in allowing poor teachers to remain in classrooms, it says.
The analysis is the council’s second annual “yearbook” of state policies. Last year’s review focused on a broader set of teacher-quality criteria.

It comes as a number of policy experts argue that districts need to better align compensation, professional development, and other aspects of the teacher-quality continuum to student-achievement goals. The topic was the subject of a national conference last fall.

And earlier this week, the Center for American Progress, a think tank headed by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff, John Podesta, released a position paper urging the federal government to establish incentive programs for states and districts willing to experiment with systems of compensating teachers, supporting them, evaluating their performance, and awarding them tenure.

The NCTQ paper found little evidence of such experimentation. It found, for example, that only 15 states require districts to take student learning into account when evaluating teachers, and only 13 allow districts to dismiss a teacher after two unsatisfactory evaluations.

Because such evaluations are also tied to the system of granting tenure, many districts can grant tenure without consideration of teaching effectiveness, the analysis indicates. Tenure prohibits the dismissal of a teacher without “just cause,” a status that must be documented through a lengthy, typically costly due-process procedure.
Alabama, by the way, scores a "C" in the NCTQ report. Perhaps they're attempts at being proactive at growing teachers is a good thing. Washington, by the way, scores lower in many areas of the report. In fact, it's rather interesting to see that Right-to-Work states score higher in most cases than those with teachers' unions. Hmmm. (As an aside, it has been wonderful this year to discover that wherever I go, I find many many others who are tired of the union sheeple that dominate conversations in this state. We just need to find a legislator willing to take it on.)

FYI...I'm posting from a previously populated queue for now. A great big Thank you! to all of you who sent me link to the recent NYT article about grading. I'm away on some personal business this week, but am looking forward to reading and writing when I return.

16 February 2009

Take a Breath

With my current schedule, I don't get a lot of opportunity for a personal life. It's all Science Goddess, all the time (with a tiny bit of "doctoral candidate" thrown in as "hobby"). This means that I have come to greatly appreciate three-day weekends---far more than I did as a classroom teacher. It also means that I am enjoying my time with friends more, not just because those visits are rare these days, but it is nice to be with people who don't see me as The Big Cheese. I don't have to watch every word I say or spend the time engaged in various diplomatic negotiations.

So today, I get to take a time out and reconnect with a variety of friends and former colleagues. I have a coffee date with my favourite first grade teachers...and a lunch date with my number one science teacher...and have a plan to wrap up some other projects in the afternoon. Life will be tidied up a bit before Tuesday gets here to make things messy again.

Enjoy your President's Day, Family Day, or other holiday!

15 February 2009

Applications and Innovations

One of my professional goals this year is to explore information visualization as it applies to educational settings. I tend to think and express myself more with words than with pictures---so this is a stretch for me. I am doing some reading and have added some new blogs to my Reader feed, most notably Digital Roam, The Center for Graphic Facilitation, Full Circle Associates, Slides That Stick, and Neoformix.

I was intrigued to discover that I'm not the only one thinking about how these ideas could be best used for the classroom (both for teachers and students). The 2009 Horizon Report "identifies and ranks key trends affecting the practice of teaching, learning, research, and creative expression...The trends are ranked according to how significant an impact they are likely to have on education in the next five years." The report identifies the following:
  • Increasing globalization continues to affect the way we work, collaborate, and communicate.
  • The notion of collective intelligence is redefining how we think about ambiguity and imprecision.
  • Experience with and affinity for games as learning tools is an increasingly universal characteristic among those entering higher education and the workforce.
  • Visualization tools are making information more meaningful and insights more intuitive.
  • As more than one billion phones are produced each year, mobile phones are benefiting from unprecedented innovation, driven by global competition.
As I push forward with social networking, viewing my cell phone as a tool instead of "toy," and now exploring the realm of visualization, I feel like I'm on the right track. Others are moving in those directions, too. I don't know where things are headed...what the outcome will be. I just like the ideas involved and believe that something powerful will emerge from the murky mess.

The image below is from a paper-based visualization competition. The work is by Charlene Lam, who says this about her piece: "I currently live in UmeĆ„, a city at latitude 63° 50′ N in northern Sweden. Our winter days are short and summer days are long. Using the actual and predicted lengths of daylight for the first of each month in 2009, I created a visualization with 12 "petals". The outer loop of each petal represents the 24 hours in the day; the inner loop is the length of daylight, ranging from 4h 33m on January 1 to 20h 34m on July 1. The simple lines suggest the passing of time, as well as the promise of spring to come."

Such an elegant visual, don't you think? Here again, I'm not sure of the practical applications of these sorts of things. I admire their artistry and in some cases, humor (e.g. a pocket pie chart). Are there reasons why we might want students and/or teachers to have bar graphs as real world manipulatives? Would a three-dimensional representation of war dead be more purposeful than a 2-dimensional one?

In education, we seem to be focused in moving in the one-way direction from pictures to words. We look at data, charts, and graph and write about them. What are you doing in your classroom or with your staff to make the move from words to pictures? What applications and innovations are moving you the other way?

14 February 2009

Take Your Pick

There are two holidays that I typically dreaded as a classroom teacher: Halloween and Valentine's Day. Both fueled sugar frenzies in students, although the effects of Halloween were most noticeable the day after and Valentine's in secondary schools involves far more drama than it should. I never had trouble getting secondary teachers to volunteer for all-day meetings or staff development on February 14. Last year's experience in an elementary school, however, was a sweet trip (literally and figuratively) down memory lane. I thought about it a lot while I was in the office yesterday, wishing I was hanging with some kinders.

Perhaps you have your own love-hate relationship with the pink beast that shows up on this date each year. I've rounded up my favourite confections from around the 'net. Take your pick of the litter. Happy Valentine's Day!

The ever clever XKCD shared a Sierpinski valentine:

Perhaps you know a certain someone who might like something from the Periodic Table of Sentiments?Or maybe Darwin (there are others featuring Carl Sagan, Mme. Curie, Einstein, and Newton) for that special valentine scientist in your life?

For good old-fashioned snark, head on over to Some E-cards:

11 February 2009

What A Concept

Education Week is reporting on a different approach to professional development for science teachers: the inclusion of a student partner from their classrooms.
When biology teacher Jessica L. McSwain guided students through a recent lab activity on genetic transformation, a colleague worked alongside her who understood exactly what she hoped to accomplish.

Not a fellow teacher, or even a teacher-in-training. A 17-year-old student.

The educator from Hilltop High School, outside San Diego, is one of about 200 teachers who have taken part in an unusual professional-development effort, which trains teachers and students together and has them work side by side in the classroom on science labs. Students in the program, called BioBridge, are expected to serve as leaders after they complete the training and return to class, helping their classmates make sense of the lab activity.

Schools often use students as "peer tutors" in science and other classes. But a number of observers say it is far less common for a professional-development program to have educators work so closely with their young charges in the hope of bringing about classroom improvement.

Yet that cooperation occurs regularly at Hilltop High, where last week Ms. McSwain was assisted in labs in four separate biology classes by Katie Talmadge, a junior with a keen interest in science.

The day before those labs, Ms. Talmadge, the 17-year-old, helped the teacher set up equipment and student kits. The day of the activity on genetics, the student checked those materials again. As the activity began, she moved from lab station to lab station, helping students who were working in small groups.

Some students had difficulty grasping the instructions. Others were confused by the content or the scientific terminology. Ms. Talmadge tried to explain it, one teenager to another.

"Students are grateful," Ms. Talmadge said. "A lot of students like science, but they're hesitant to push forward." Sometimes, she added, "a kid that's more rebellious will give me more respect because I'm their age."...

Teachers who sign up for the BioBridge program attend a full-day workshop at the UC-San Diego campus, in which they discuss and plan lab activities. They also visit the university's research labs.

Participating teachers then recruit three or four of their students to serve as in-class leaders. The teachers and students work together at a Saturday workshop, held at a local high school, to plan the labs. The students also attend sessions at that same site on how to be effective classroom leaders.

Working directly with students in planning and carrying out science lessons is a new experience for most teachers, and for some it can be an awkward one, Ms. McSwain acknowledged.

At first, she said, she wasn't sure which students to choose or how prepared they would be to guide their classmates. Ms. McSwain's own relative youth—she's 30 and been told she looks almost as young as her students—added to her initial unease, she recalled jokingly.

"It's odd" for students at the outset, as well, Ms. McSwain said. "You're recruiting them into a kind of club. You kind of don't know what they're thinking. You've got them there on a Saturday," she added, "and they're doing science....

Students who take part in BioBridge, perhaps not surprisingly, tend to be accomplished in science, Mr. Babendure said. Some want to develop leadership skills; others may participate for extra credit, he said. Teachers are encouraged not to pick only A-plus students, he added, but also those below the top tier with a knack for motivating their peers.

One encouraging result of BioBridge is that it has drawn a fair number of shy students, particularly girls, who emerge from it with confidence and a deeper interest in biology, Mr. Babendure observed.

"We're hoping to show that it's cool being good at science," he said...

One possible benefit of BioBridge, Mr. Bartels said, is that teachers are receiving an impromptu tutorial—from students—on how to translate scientific language and concepts for teenagers.

"You want it to be informing the teacher on how to reach the student," Mr. Bartels said. "You would hope that teachers get a much more finely tuned ear for what the student experiences."
I have to say that I like this idea. I can think of any number of students I've had over the years that might not have been the superstars of the class, but whose passion for science was sorely underused by both their peers and me. I am opposed to using kids as teaching tools; however, in this case, students are not being used to remediate other students or to forego extensions of their own learning. Instead, these peers act as instructional coaches alongside the teacher and are allowed to participate in additional opportunities. What a concept.

08 February 2009

Weekly Dose of Grading

If I were a proper blogger these days, I would take each of the tidbits below and flesh them out. The sad fact is that my blogging energy is lagging, although not my interest. I tag a variety of things to think about and sharing them in this abbreviated form seems better than not sharing them at all.

Via Pharyngula comes the tale of a tenured university professor in Ontario who is in the process of being dismissed after the following incident:
On the first day of his fourth-year physics class, University of Ottawa professor Denis Rancourt announced to his students that he had already decided their marks: Everybody was getting an A+.
It was not his job, as he explained later, to rank their skills for future employers, or train them to be “information transfer machines,” regurgitating facts on demand. Released from the pressure to ace the test, they would become “scientists, not automatons,” he reasoned.
But by abandoning traditional marks, Prof. Rancourt apparently sealed his own failing grade: In December, the senior physicist was suspended from teaching, locked out of his laboratory and told that the university administration was recommending his dismissal and banning him from campus.
...the professor is undeterred about those A-pluses: “Grades poison the educational environment,” he insists. “We're training students to be obedient, and to try to read our minds, rather than being a catalyst for learning.”
If you have the time and inclination, have a gander at the article in the Toronto Globe and Mail. There is little doubt that Dr. Rancourt has a variety of controversial views. It is likely that the stance on grading was the straw the broke the back of the university, but should it have stirred this type of controversy? Hmmm...

Meanwhile, in Georgia, there is concern about the disparity between course grades and scores on the standardized End of Course Exams:
Teachers statewide are much easier on high school students than the state’s mandatory End of Course Tests, a study released today by state education officials found.
For most of the eight subjects tested in 2007, the percentage of students who failed the standardized exam was two to three times higher than the percentage who failed the class. The most startling disparity was in economics: While nearly 36 percent of students failed the test, only about 6 percent failed the class.
End of Course Tests account for 15 percent of students’ class grades, suggesting the gap between test scores and teacher-given grades is even larger.
“Both EOCTs and course grades are based on the same state standards, so we should expect general alignment between the two,” said Kathleen Mathers, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, in a news release. The office commissioned the statistical study from Chris Clark, a Georgia College and State University professor.
For some districts, the study reveals either pervasive grade inflation, or grading so tough that some students who ace the End of Course Tests are still struggling to maintain class grades high enough to qualify for the state’s merit-based HOPE scholarship.
Individual district and subject results, plus the research study, can be viewed at: www.gaosa.org/research.aspx.
This article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interests me mainly because there are rumblings here in Washington about going to End of Course (EoC) Tests for high school science. I am not in favour of this, primarily because it forces schools to offer and students to take particular courses in science. Right now, students have a choice about whether they take chemistry, physics, biology, AP, or other science offerings. Schools can offer what best suits their student populations (some schools are very heavy on agricultural applications), physical plant facilities, and teacher certifications. The other part about using EoCs that concerns me is based on what Georgia is starting to see. What if a kid passes the test, but not the class? (Here in WA, the EoC would not be included in the course grade.) Can we really say that our standards, materials, instruction, and assessment are so aligned and valid that there will be a 1:1 match with an EoC...and if not, is that a big deal?

Finally, the WaPo again captures my attention with its recent article detailing how Well-Connected Parents Take on School Boards.
For a new generation of well-wired activists in the Washington region, it's not enough to speak at Parent-Teacher Association or late-night school board meetings. They are going head-to-head with superintendents through e-mail blitzes, social networking Web sites, online petitions, partnerships with business and student groups, and research that mines a mountain of electronic data on school performance.
These parent insurgents are gaining influence -- and getting things changed.
In recent weeks, parent-led campaigns helped bring down a long-established grading policy in Fairfax County and scale back the unpopular practice of charging fees for courses in Montgomery County. They have also stoked debates over math education in Frederick and Prince William counties...
What binds them is impatience with the school establishment and an aptitude for harnessing the power of the Internet to push for change.
"We are not our moms, who were just involved in the PTA," said Catherine Lorenze, a McLean mother who helped organize Fairgrade, the parent-led campaign to change the Fairfax grading scale by lowering the bar for an A from 94 to 90 percent.
"We worked for a number of years before we had kids," she said. "We know how to research and find information and connect the dots. To expect us to show up and just make photos or write checks does not sit well with this generation. If you are going to invite parents in the door . . . it should be more of a partnership."
School officials say they welcome the heightened interest in public education, because parent involvement often leads to student success. But they also warn that the wildfire Web-based campaigns can spread rumors quickly and tend to benefit affluent, well-connected parents. They can also distract school officials from budget deficits or other pressing issues...
Officials caution that the new technology has turned up the volume for select parent voices. It can be especially apparent in parts of Fairfax or Montgomery where well-educated parents are not afraid to throw their weight around and register complaints with a phone call to the superintendent or the media. Blast e-mails and Web sites give these parents even more of an edge, compared with others who lack time or resources, some observers say.
Schools need to be more concerned about the digital divide than ever before, Hunter said. "We don't want to create two levels of power, those with access to information and those without it," she said.
Administrators across the region are looking for new ways to encourage traditionally silent parents to work with schools. In the District, efforts are underway to encourage parents to organize their thoughts into a short speech for the school board or to approach their children's teachers if they are concerned about a grade or a problem.
I've watched the fight about grading there for some time, fascinated with the fact that these parents are point-whoring for their kids as opposed to something more meaningful...like suggesting that their students' grades represent academic achievement only. Here's a headline recap of the saga: Schools to Study Grading Practices (4/26/2008), In Grading Levels the Playing Field Is Often Uneven (9/15/2008), Grading Bar Too High, (10/19/2008), Opponents Show Up in Force (1/9/2009), Fairfax Board Leans Toward New Grading Scale (1/12/2009), Fairfax to Ease Grading Policy (1/22/09), Enthusiasm for Grade Policy Change (1/24/2009).
But the additional point about technology enabling these fights is well-taken. Parents who are net and smartphone savvy have the additional benefit of being able to hound school districts on multiple fronts---all under the assumption that because they've attended a school at one point or another that it makes them qualified to run one. Will squeaky wheels always get the grease? Or is there some way to meaningfully connect with all parents in the SES spectrum?

Any grading news of note that I've missed this week? Things from your own classrooms to share?

02 February 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?

One of the things I often hear from teachers with regards to grading is the idea that one of the purposes of the grading systems we use is simply to prepare kids for the next level. In other words, junior high teachers have certain assumptions about high school...and high school about college. I even heard these words echoed in the elementary I worked in last year: "You'll need to know how to do this for third grade!" Somehow, I don't think many 8-year olds really paid attention to that sort of future threat.

When I worked with teachers last week, the issue of the high school-college connection came up again. The context was simply the idea that by having a unit test at the end of each section of material, this prepped kids for college. While I don't dispute that tests are a part of college life, I'm not so sure that this line of reasoning is the most valid one. Not every kid is going to college. And more importantly, shouldn't there be a better reason to assess student learning than "just because"?

And...what if high school's assumptions about college are wrong? (Or at least may well be very soon)
Is it time to move beyond grades? That was the question considered — largely in the affirmative — at a workshop Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It may seem counterintuitive to think that this is a time for colleges to consider giving up grades. Many college administrators feel that accreditors are breathing down their necks, demanding more and more evidence of student learning. With the economy falling apart, parents want to be assured that their children are learning something. And the vast majority of colleges award grades.

But when organizers of the workshop had audience members describe their experiences with grading, the closest they came to a fan was an associate provost who admitted that he saw grade inflation as completely out of control and said that for more students at his and similar institutions, the grade-point average range is around 3.4 to 3.8. It seemed that everyone else in the room had been motivated to attend by their sense that the system isn’t working: Other academic administrators who said grades had become meaningless. A registrar who said that she was struggling to understand the apparent inconsistencies in faculty members’ grades. A professor who tells his students that “grades are the death of composition.” Another said: “Grades create a facade of coherence.”

Many said they assumed that it was politically impossible to eliminate grades. But they heard from educators at colleges that have done so and survived to tell the tale. And notably, they heard from colleges offering evidence that the elimination of grades — if they are replaced with narrative evaluations, rubrics, and clear learning goals — results in more accountability and better ways for a colleges to measure the success not only of students but of its academic programs.

There's much more to read in the Inside Higher Ed article: Imagining College Without Grades. I do wonder if there will be an opportunity to bring the k-20 spectrum to the same table at some point to talk about grades. We seem to all be working in isolation on this topic...speculating about what the other is doing and the reasons for ascribing motivation to our actions. When it comes to grading, can't we all just get along?

01 February 2009

Superbowl Sunday Buffet

It's Superbowl Sunday here in the states. Doesn't seem like the right time to post anything too serious---so I'll queue up some things for later in the week when we are back to our regularly scheduled winter doldrums. How about some lighter fare to snack on today?

First of all, I would like to acknowledge the Lemonade Award bestowed upon the blog by Leesepea. If there's anything I pride myself on, it's the ability to make chicken salad out of chicken sh...er, lemonade from lemons. There is an enormous demand for this particular talent with my current job, unfortunately. But it's nice to know that at my ever-advancing age and all of the "been there, seen that" which comes with an extended experience in education that I still have a shred of intellectual curiosity left. Much more to do, though.

If you're looking for a diversion this afternoon to take your mind off the game, why not try one of these?
  • Superuseless Superpowers posts a wide variety of new heroes for us to admire. What if you were only bulletproof after the 12th bullet? If you had powers of invisibility...but could only achieve 99% opacity? Teleport things...but only 1 inch away? The mind boggles. I would love to read the kinds of stories kids would write about people with these stunted superpowers. I've also been wondering what my superuseless superpower could be.
  • Thanks to a tip from Joanne Jacobs, I've been checking out ZERO Out of FIVE. This blog is devoted to the funniest exam answers provided by students. Perhaps you have one to contribute from your own classroom?
  • Perhaps you might be interested in Passive-Aggressive (And Just Plain Aggressive) Notes? We've all seen them---in the dorm, in the staff room, and stapled to telephone poles. This blog is devoted to to the "painfully polite and hilariously hostile writings from shared spaces the world over." Somehow, it's reassuring to know that people who leave these sorts of notes aren't confined to my workspace.
  • Improv Everywhere has some wonderful projects. My favourite is the Best Game Ever, where they showed up at a little league game and gave it the big league treatment---everything from shirtless guys with painted on logos, to programs, to a jumbotron and play calling by professional sportscasters. If the commercialization of pro sports has you down today, go have a look at things through this lens.
  • Pedigree is running an ad on alternative pets (e.g. water buffalo, rhinoceros...) for today's game---but even better are the behind the scenes ads where there are interviews with the "pet owners." See the whole campaign on Fire That Agency!
  • Finally, I ran across some BBC shorts called Look Around You. These spoof 1980's science classroom videos. Topics range from germs to ghosts to maths. Enjoy "Water" shown below. Others available on YouTube. I can hardly wait to use these with upcoming staff development opportunities.

I have a few other things to share that I will be using for post fodder later in the week. Enjoy your pizza, beer, and cheering on your favourite team today!