Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Almanac: Grading Over The Years – Homework #1


When I started teaching in 1973 parts of grading were the same as they are to this day. 
If students complete an assignment, someone has to grade it. 

I told my student teachers, “If you want to know who that is, just look in a mirror.”

This blog series concentrates on the grading of papers and determining student grades for report cards.

The first thing a new teacher learns is that five periods of 30+ kids generate a LOT of papers to grade. Soon after that revelation, you realize that, if you grade every answer on every paper, there are not enough hours in a day to
      ·      Teach
      ·      Grade
      ·      Record grades
      ·      Eat
      ·      Sleep
      ·      Socialize
      ·      Exercise and other recreational activities
      ·      Take care of your spiritual needs
                               and continue to function as a human being.

This epiphany comes most often as you sit at a desk facing stacks of papers that could easily be mistaken for a model of the Himalayan Mountains.

Far too many new teachers try and try to fit the 30 hours of time-sucking activities into their allotted 24 hours. First-year teachers are the second most likely group to quit during or soon after the school year begins. Amazingly, a majority of rookie teachers make it into year two.

Second-year teachers are the most likely to quit the profession. That’s because they find out that what they hoped would happen—all that grading was accomplished by magical powers—doesn’t happen. The “give assignments/grade assignments” cycle continues unabated.
If you can't figure out which was 1973 and which was 2012, I suggest an ophthalmologist appointment.
It’s been 44 years since my first day in Room 1004 at Monte Vista High School. Here’s what I know now.
Assignments are not created equal. In every discipline there are [should be!] assignments designed      1.     for students to learn.  
     2.     for students to know what they don’t know.
           3.     to assess student learning.

Homework most commonly falls under design #1. I learned that I never really knew who did the homework a student turned in. In my heart, I believed each student worked diligently until (s)he completed an assignment. In my mind, I knew that was not the case for every student.

As I moved through my career, grading of homework became a time of communal learning. It was common for homework to be a “trade and grade” activity. The scenario went something like this.
Homework was due when students walked through the door.
Room 507 at Great Oak High School.
In the far left of this photo, you might be able to make a sign with an arrow pointing down to a plastic tray. Sorry for the poor quality of this photo. I didn't check the focus until I'd cleared my room.

I collected homework papers from the tray and brought them to my teaching station.

I checked papers for completeness, usually affixing a pig stamp indicating the degree of completeness.

“Put all writing utensils away,” I said.

“Take a grading pen/pencil from the box on your desk.” Students chose their favorite color. These were the only writing utensils allowed at the desks during a trade and grade of a self-grade session.
I walked down the center aisle of my room and dropped papers on each row.

“Pass these down.” Further directions included “take your own paper,” or “make sure you have the paper from a student that’s not in your row.”

Once all the papers were disseminated, I went through the answers. Students were my eyes and hands as they marked answers as right/wrong, added/subtracted text to an answer, and/or mad other annotations as directed.

Papers were returned to their owners before I collected them and recorded the grades.

Depending on the class, this grading process could be pretty sophisticated. I often used Powerpoint slides as visuals. Below is an example.

Global Science/Pre-AP Biology
Botany Focus Questions
Students are given these directions. I used these in all levels of my high school courses and use them now in the university courses I teach.
How to do focus question assignments
A.   Read glossary at the end of the chapter before reading.
B.    Read any Focus Questions for the assigned pages in that chapter BEFORE reading those pages.
C.    Read the assigned pages. Do not stop reading to write down definitions or answers!
D.   After you have FINISHED reading the assigned pages, write down what you remember. If you don’t know remember something, go back and find the information, and then answer, add to, or correct your answers.
This is part of the PowerPoint I went through. The slide background is the pond I had in my backyard.

Four Focus Questions with Answers.
I explained the point distribution for each question.
Slide 1: the points are self-explanatory.
Slide 2: Definition is one point. Type of plan is one point.
Slide 3: Definition is one point. Each division is worth one point for the first three divisions. To get the final point, there must be a total of five divisions described accurately.
Slide 4: This is the most subjective of the samples. Here, the key point is deciduous leaves fall “all at once” and evergreen leaves don’t. One point for each of those.

After that, all I had to do is answer clarification questions.


Next Almanac Blog will have more examples of the “trade/grade” or “self-grade” process as well has some other hints on homework.

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My website is: www.crdowning.com

I'd appreciate your feedback!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Authors: Reviewing Reviews Part 3 of 3 - Review$ by “Professionals”


I’ve discussed reviews as entities

I’ve discussed the “who” of the reviewer

Today’s blog compares two reviews of a manuscript that awaits publication. The working title of the book was The 5th Page. It is a full-length detective novel with “my private detective,” Phil Mamba as the primary protagonist. The title most likely to be in place when it does find the light of day is Betrayal in Blue. Below is a collage of the current idea iterations of both book covers.

I’ve spent over 18 months on this manuscript. During that time, numerous hours and at least 20 handwritten, single-spaced pages of edits from two people that edit professionally were incorporated. A page-by-page professional proofread of next to final edit of the manuscript completed the production process.

I paid for two pre-publication reviews. My expectations were much more than “at least one phrase/sentence” I could use in publicity for these reviews.

One review is from Kirkus Reviews, the superstar reviewing service in publishing. They now review “indie” work, so I ordered a review.

The second review is from Apex Reviews. More on this quality company later.

Komments on Kirkus
I took advantage of a $50 off the regular price for this review.

The process was swift, less than eight weeks from submission to release of the review. This was quicker than the “usual” wait time quoted by the website.

Michael Valinsky, Editorial Assistant, Kirkus Reviews, contacted me before sending the manuscript to a reviewer to ask if it was part of a series. It is, but it stands alone, too, so there was no need to research the previous book. I was impressed by this contact.

If you didn’t skip ahead, I invite you to read Kirkus’ review now. If you’ve already read the review, these “comments” continue after the screenshot of the review.

I was disappointed when I first read it. While I don’t consider it a good review, I am less disappointed now that time has passed. In some respects, I find it hard to consider most of the verbiage a review at all; my opinion of that aspect of the review is disappointing.

There is enough of the plot described to convince me that the reviewer read the book. The “gets clogged with extended back stories,” “some word choices and expressions do not [work],” and “it’s hard to keep track of all the players without a score card” are fair unfavorable opinions. Conversely, “the use of italics for characters’ first-person stream of consciousness in an otherwise third-person story works” is the only example of a clearly favorable opinion.

The bulk of the printed “review” is descriptive. While the tone varies throughout, there is nothing overtly positive in this review. Even the final sentence is an enigma.



Accolades for ApexReviews.net
In stark contrast to the Kirkus review, Apex Reviews review is one hundred percent review.

I chose the “express review” option the offer and submitted the request and payment of $49.00 on 8/31/16. The review was completed on 9/26/15.

Here’s what I got for my money. From http://www.apexreviews.net/Submit_Your_Book.html

Please find below all the features included in the Express Review package:
  • Review completed within 2 weeks (after the book is assigned to a reviewer)
  • Tear sheet in PDF format (a review you can use in whole or excerpts, with credit given to the reviewer and Apex Reviews)
  • Your review posted on Goodreads, Barnesandnoble.com, other online retailers featuring your book. Your review can also be posted to Amazon.com
  • Your review announced on our Facebook & Twitter profiles (15,000+ friends & followers)
  • A press release announcing your review distributed to our highly popular PRLog Channel, syndicated to hundreds of media outlets worldwide
Also included in the Express Review package is a customized Author Feature page, including all of the following:
  • Your photo
  • Your bio
  • Your website link
  • Your Facebook link
  • Your Twitter link
  • Your other social media links (e.g. Instagram, Pinterest, Google +, etc.)
  • Your book's Amazon purchase link
  • Your book's cover photo
  • Your book trailer
  • Your completed review
The 5th Page is not yet in print, so my “Author Feature page” is not up.

If you didn’t skip ahead, I invite you to read Apex review now. If you’ve already read the review, these accolades continue after the screenshot of the review.


This review
  • gives away nothing of the plot of the book.
  • describes the action succinctly with enough detail to encourage a reader to uncover more herself/himself.
  • includes references outside the scope of novel that frame the storyline in historical context.
  • Most of the unfavorable aspects from Kirkus elicit a completely different reaction in this reviewer.
“Combining well-developed, unforgettable characters – Mamba chief among them – and a thoroughly researched, meticulously crafted tale, The 5th Page is both informative and entertaining, which adds to its page-turning appeal. Downing proves himself a masterful storyteller as he mixes fact and fiction in seamless fashion, throwing in just enough action and suspense to keep the reader hooked until the very end.”

If I end up self-publishing this book, I will use parts of both reviews in the marketing.

Foremost of the quotes from the review will be some portion of the above quote from Apex, along with the concluding sentence
“A highly recommended read.”

I’m not certain what part of the Kirkus review I will use. Most likely it will include something from the first two or three sentences of the review and the final comment. Kirkus has specific guidelines for using excerpts from their reviews. I’ll have to run my excerpt past them before I use it.

Lessons Learned about Reviews
·      Reviews are essential in today’s market. Amazon’s search algorithms are skewed to books with high numbers of reviews. In October of 2016, Amazon made a sweeping change in their review acceptance policy. It is now illegal to post a review that was obtained from a reviewer who received a discounted price on a product in exchange for the review. However, this is the final line in the press release from Amazon.
The above changes will apply to product categories other than books. We will continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.

No mention is made of exchanging books with another author for reviewing purposes.

·       One reviewer I found required an Amazon gift card in the amount of the price of the book for her review. I got credit for a sale and a review, too.
·      Outside of writing your books, obtaining reviews will most likely be the hardest thing you do as an author.
·      Giving away hundreds of eBooks has netted me a total of two reviews I can positively trace to that strategy.
·      If your book is a good one, and enough people buy your book, reviews will come. I cannot predict the rate of reviews per 100 books sold for you. I doubt anyone can.

I wish I had a more successful strategy to offer for this thorn in the flesh, but I don’t.

 I offer this cliché in conclusion. It has been attributed to many, including Albert Einstein. However, the quote is probably apocryphal.
A definition of INSANITY

Continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Next Author’s Blog will start a series on Lessons Learned By And From Young Authors.
Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CRDowningAuthor
My website is: www.crdowning.com

I'd appreciate your feedback!


Email me at: chuckdowningauthor@gmail.com

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