Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Responding to Student Writing

In a piece called "ABOUT RESPONDING TO STUDENT WRITING," Peter Elbow writes:
The fact is there is no best way to respond to student writing. The right comment is the one that will help this student on this topic on this draft at this point in the semester -- given her character and experience.My best chance for figuring out what is going on for any particular student at any given point depends on figuring out what was going on for her as she was writing.
I found this document on our schools website under "Teaching Resources" on the Provost Office page. It sounds like pretty good advice.

It also sounds different from the advice I find on another page of the institution's website. On that page I find a "rubric" for assessing student learning in essays. It gives me six categories (overall impression, argument, evidence, counter evidence, sources, citations) and wordy descriptions of different levels of achievement in each. It's pretty unclear from the document how it is intended to be used, but basically, it's a grading scale.

Here's my question: which kind of teaching students to write does my boss want me to use?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Spellings' Flawed Metaphor

An interesting article and even more interesting responses in Inside Higher Ed from a few years back: "The Flawed Metaphor of the Spellings Summit"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Six Things to Beware of, Grasshopper...

A lot of such talk as there is about innovation and change in higher education these days shows up in the general orbit of assessment. Having recently listened to or read a lot of material from assessment experts, I jotted down a few cautions.

Beware the tyranny of software. I like software. I write computer programs. But, at the risk of sounding Asimovian, software has to serve education, not the other way round. For the last ten years we have repeatedly adjusted the way we educate to the needs of the software ("Banner won't let you do that..."). Banner and its ilk are just hammers. No right-thinking carpenter changes the way she builds a house because of hammer limitations.

Beware the fetishization of uniformity. Healthy ecosystems, organizations, relationships, families, and individuals entertain a healthy dialectical tension between sameness and difference, uniformity and irregularity, standardization and improvisation. Whether you are trying to be a virus that can outwit immune systems (or an immune system that can shut down a virus), or building a firm that can weather economic ups and downs, or running a college that produces excellent graduates from a stunning variation of inputs, the key is to cultivate order and chaos simultaneously.

Beware projection and other forms of X-o-centrism. We are all subject to our own version of Saul Steinberg's classic "New Yorker's view of the World." What works for me, or in one course, or in my department, or in our division, or in one school I know about, is surely good for you. Whether it's a analogy or metaphor, an algorithm, a social form, or a paradigm, or a homeomorphism, context and local history matter.

Beware foolish numberers and their arrogant misquotations of Lord Kelvin -- if you can't measure it, it does not exist -- and mindless adherence to quantification as an end in itself.

Beware saviors, those who in the face of skepticism and critique fancy themselves the new Galileo or who too readily imagine they are members of a new Vienna Secession or Salon des Refus├ęs.

Beware assurances that complex things can be done with little effort or in far less time than you think. Most things that are easy and simple and beneficial have already been done. Things like the valid measurement of educational outcomes are not simple. Getting it right takes time and effort.

Most of all, beware a movement that cannot apply its own techniques to itself.

When the Blind Meet the Lost

Assessment has landed where it has because the "movement" is driven, far beyond our individual institutions' halls, by a political agenda and small minds who have seized on an entrepreneurial opportunity and attached themselves to it.   In a democratic society, that politcal agenda deserves a free and open debate.  Unfortunately, many of the individuals who have attached themselves to it, are either unaware of its terms or incapable (or afraid) of engaging in such a debate.  Unfortunately for those who are behind the movement, many of their foot soldiers are an embarrassment and either they themselves are not competent to realize this or they are too ideologically blinded to care.

Perhaps the most telling characteristic of the "assessment movement" is its failure to live up to its own standards: there is no culture of accountability and measurement and assessment in the assessment community. It would not be the first movement (in education or elsewhere) to suffer from this shortcoming.