Monday, August 28, 2017

Teachers. Thoughts on Grading #1 - HOMEWORK

This is the first of a series of 8 posts that ran sporadically
from 4/18-7/24 of this year. 
I never posted #8 because I decided
to reprise the series for the new school year.
I'm running all 8 posts on consecutive Mondays starting today. 
If you're not a teacher and you're reading this,
let a teacher know.
I've been in enough "inservice" sessions to guarantee that the information in this series is better than most they'll be sitting through this school year. 

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 arrows pointing down to a plastic tray. Sorry for the poor quality of this photo. I didn't check the focus until I'd cleared the room when I retired.
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.

Email me: with questions/ comments.
Or, if you'd like more information or samples of anything described in this series, send an email there!

The next Teachers. Thoughts on Grading will have more examples of the “trade/grade” or “self-grade” process as well as more hints on homework.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Editorial/Opinion: The Real America

As I sit here on Saturday, August 19, 2017, I’m typing this blog post. There are hundreds, probably thousands of other things I could be doing. There are at least two things I should be doing—working on tomorrow’s 5th/6th grade Sunday school lesson or cleaning and lemon oiling the rest of the upper kitchen cabinets.

I’ll get the Sunday school lesson done today.

I’m in no real hurry about the cabinets. My shoulder joints and fused vertebrae ache after those sessions.

Moving on . . .

I suspect the title of the blog had some bearing on your reading to this point in the post. I have two paragraphs of explanation before hitting the ground running with text related to the title.

Since the 2016 Presidential election in the United States, political and cultural polarization has, if not increased, become more visible. There are many pundits with explanations as to why this is happening and what to do about it. If you’re looking for another rant or justification for or against either side, you’ve come to the wrong blog.

Over the past three days, I’ve seen two quotes I felt were germane to what’s happening in the USA right now. My comments revolve around those quotes and one other. The first quote is by Carl Sagan, circa 1996. I second, I copied from a friend’s Facebook share—the author’s name was not included. I assume it’s recent based on the content. The final is a vintage quote from Gordon Sinclair. I remember it from when it was broadcast on the radio in the late 1970s.

The Real America

If you asked every person living in the USA, “What’s the real America like?” you’d get over 350-million answers. They would cluster into groups of similar ideology, but few would be identical to another. Diversity is one of the strengths of our country.

Carl Sagan was an American physical scientist in the 1970s and 1980s. He achieved celebrity status by way of his PBS series “Cosmos.” He was a keen observer of the times. And he knew his American history. The page below is from a book that was published just before his death in 1996. Based on the timetable of book production, it was most likely written in 1994 or 1995.

Copyright © 1997 Carl Sagan
The right of Carl Sagan to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in 1996 by HEADLINE BOOK PUBLISHING
First published in this edition in 1997 by HEADLINE BOOK PUBLISHING

This only part of page 28.

Read it below with the verbs in the present tense. I reformatted it as well to emphasize the differences.

I had a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time. The United States is a service and information economy.
      1.    Nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries.
      2.   Awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues.
      3.   The people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority.
      4.   Clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties are in decline.
      5.   We are unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we are sliding, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
      6.   The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media. Once 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less) are the predominant form of information.
      7.   The lowest common denominator programming is the most common media venue.
      8.   Credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition have supplanted presentations on science.
      9.   Especially worrisome is the general feeling that American has no issue with living in a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Those words could have been original observations from this calendar year, not past predictions. I will focus on #3, #5, and #6. That’s not to say that I think the others are unworthy of commentary; I’ve selected the three that best fit my agenda in this blog. 
#3. Few opportunities are available on a consistent basis that allow, or encourage, either agenda setting or authority. Teachers are locked into “standards-based instruction,” which too often emphasizes content over process or thinking. Regulations at local, state, and Federal levels restrict much commerce and inventiveness.
#5. Feeling good is a mantra. The right to feel good has risen to the constitutional level in many minds. On the other hand, the truth is too often decried for originating in biased circumstances or adjusted to match the needs of a funding agency.
#6. Sound bites are the stock and trade of news today. Lifted from longer parts of speeches or broadcasts, they are carefully edited so facial expressions and body language support the agenda of the entity responsible for publication or broadcast of the minimal amount of information in the bite.

National cable networks dedicate hours upon hours of airtime to selected issues. Redundancy is the standard. While using the elliptical machine at the gym this week, I was subjected to over 30-minutes of nearly identical pontification by male and female “experts.” No credentials of those experts were presented. The few points presented reminded me of a warning I heard from a speaker in a college class I took.

Beware of someone who screams loudly 

and uses his own echo as support.

Quotation number two was not cited in the message I copied it from. Take a read.

The percentage of Americans who attend church each week that is bandied about in the media is 40%. I did some math. 52 million is closer to 20% than 40%. I decided to see if I could verify that stat. 

I found the probable source.

I’m giving the quote writer the benefit of that validation for the numeric values in the quote.
For the sake of ease of computing, I rounded “several hundred” to 1,000. I assumed that attendees of the event in question were all from the Southeastern US. So, I added 3,000—1,000 from each of the other “quadrants” and another 1,000 as a margin of error. Our grand total of attendees at “the largest white supremacist gathering in decades” could have had 5,000.
 5,000 attendees/52,000,000 churchgoers = 0.000096 or .0096%

The 1,000 real attendees (.0003% of the 323 million Americans) got thousands of hours of combined media coverage during and after their “event.”

The 52-million churchgoers got <insert your estimate here> hours of media coverage during the same time period. My estimate is “a couple hundred,” and I’m being optimistic.

When’s the last time thousands of hours of nationwide coverage of an event by a volunteer organization that included more than 1,000 volunteers aired?

Probably during and after the last hurricane. But that coverage was intermingled with another story.

Why isn’t there coverage of other accomplishments of the 52-million churchgoers? Or of the 62-million volunteers? Both those groups are more often blind to human differences than not. A person in need is a person in need.

Carl Sagan predicted an America that today’s national media has embraced if not created to serve its purposes.
Isn’t The Real America the America of "church goers," "volunteers," "givers to charity," and "people who went to work today"? The author of the quote above thinks so.
So do I.

Do I like the contentiousness in our government?

Do I like everything else about America?

America is at a crossroad in terms of direction at the highest levels. I’m not certain I can accurately define any of the possible directions. I’m praying that the direction ultimately chosen is not selected because of media coverage of situations and circumstances that don’t accurately reflect what’s going in The Real America.

Perhaps we (I) need to be more outspoken about media bias on all sides . . .

I close with a memory. My eyes misted over the first time I heard this on the radio. They still mist over when I hear it.

Read Sinclair’s commentary below. When I do, I’m prouder than ever to be an American.

I suspect your eyes will tear up, too.

The reality is, America is still doing most 

of the service described by Sinclair 44 years later.

The commentary [below] by Gordon Sinclair is true, although people along the way have altered portions of it.

Originally written for a Toronto newspaper, it was broadcast on June 5, 1973, on CFRB radio in Toronto, Canada.

It had a big impact at the time. A recording of Sinclair reading his commentary became a best-selling record that hit Canada’s top 30.  Canadian broadcaster Byron MacGregor produced a version in his own voice.  It was called “Americans” and became a hit record as well, rising to Canada’s top 5, selling 3.5 million copies.  That meant 3 gold records for MacGregor.  He donated the proceeds to the American Red Cross.

“The Americans” 

The United States dollar took another pounding on German, French and British exchanges this morning, hitting the lowest point ever known in West Germany.

It has declined there by 41% since 1971 and this Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least-appreciated people in all the earth.

As long as sixty years ago, when I first started to read newspapers, I read of floods on the Yellow River and the Yangtse. Who rushed in with men and money to help?

The Americans did.

They have helped control floods on the Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges and the Niger. Today, the rich bottom land of the Mississippi is under water and no foreign land has sent a dollar to help.

Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain, and Italy, were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of those countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.

When the franc was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. I was there. I saw it.

When distant cities are hit by earthquakes, it is the United States that hurries into help… Managua Nicaragua is one of the most recent examples. So far this spring, 59 American communities have been flattened by tornadoes. Nobody has helped. The Marshall Plan .. the Truman Policy .. all pumped billions upon billions of dollars into discouraged countries. Now, newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent war-mongering Americans. I’d like to see one of those countries that is gloating over the erosion of the United States dollar build its own airplanes. Come on… let’s hear it!

Does any other country in the world have a plane to equal the Boeing Jumbo Jet, the Lockheed Tristar or the Douglas 107? If so, why don’t they fly them? Why do all international lines except Russia fly American planes? Why does no other land on earth even consider putting a man or women on the moon? You talk about Japanese technocracy and you get radios. You talk about German technocracy and you get automobiles. You talk about American technocracy and you find men on the moon, not once, but several times … and safely home again. You talk about scandals and the Americans put theirs right in the store window for everyone to look at. Even the draft dodgers are not pursued and hounded. They are here on our streets, most of them … unless they are breaking Canadian laws..are getting American dollars from Ma and Pa at home to spend here. When the Americans get out of this bind … as they will… who could blame them if they said ‘the hell with the rest of the world’. Let someone else buy the Israel bonds, Let someone else build or repair foreign dams or design foreign buildings that won’t shake apart in earthquakes.

When the railways of France, Germany, and India were breaking down through age, it was the Americans who rebuilt them. When the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central went broke, nobody loaned them an old caboose. Both are still broke. I can name to you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble?

I don’t think there was outside help even during the San Francisco earthquake. Our neighbours have faced it alone and I am one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them kicked around. They will come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they are entitled to thumb their nose at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. I hope Canada is not one of these. But there are many smug, self-righteous Canadians.

And finally, the American Red Cross was told at its 48th Annual meeting in New Orleans this morning that it was broke. This year’s disasters... with the year less than half-over… has taken it all and nobody…but nobody… has helped.

God bless The Real America!

Note: Some of the situations described by Sinclair are no longer as described. There have been instances--9/11 for example--when help for Americans was provided post haste.

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