Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Authors. KindleScout - My Campaign Experience

Details of the KindleScout program itself were provided in my blog post titled "Authors. Meet KindleScout!"
In late 2015, I learned of a program for authors sponsored by Amazon’s Kindle division. Since Amazon was the leading sales point for books in the world then, and the carrot was a “guaranteed” contract with them, I investigated.

Sherry Frazier, my publicist at the time, encouraged me to finish the manuscript I was editing and submit it. Fortunately, as things turned out, I did not submit.

In August of this year (2017), I finished a different manuscript. Much shorter than the one that I didn’t submit, Patterns on Pages is Volume 4 of the Traveler’s HOT L series.

The screenshot above is the campaign at a glance. I don’t know how many nominations Patterns on Pages received. Amazon is careful not to allow that information out. Ultimately there were 1,600 visits to Patterns’ KindleScout page.

I was glad for, not happy with the first day’s count of 100 hits. It suggests that my “core” group jumped on the chance to help me. I was disappointed with the drop-off that followed.

You have to keep your book’s nomination in front of your social media audience. I suspect that there are authors who use KindleScout often. The offer for the book I mentioned in the first post on this topic indicated that by following the plan in the book, she kept her books in the “Hot and Trending” category 90% of the time.

Following the peaks and valleys on the screenshot, you can see how effective my “pushes” were . . . or weren’t. I call the flat line from August 26 through September 6 Death Valley. No matter what I put up as a reminder or an incentive, there was little response by my audience.

  • I made new groups on Facebook and posted just for them.
  • I posted in other Facebook groups I belong to. Below are the posts I put on one of the sites for graduates from the high school I attended. I had more on my personal and professional Facebook pages. 

I tweeted and posted on LinkedIn, too.

Notice the DRASTIC change in the style and wording of the example in the lower right-hand corner. Notice the date. Now, look at the graph of the number of hits on the scout page for the date that was posted. IT’S NOT a coincidence that the highest peak on the graph is the first day that was posted.

I didn’t write that lower right-hand corner post. I wasn’t the first to post it.

This is important!

A complete stranger found the book. She looked at my less than stellar pathetic communiqués and took it upon herself to help the cause because she thought the book had promise. This is that magnanimous person.

Ms. Reed is an editor and author. Her website is minimalistic but effective. I will use at least one of her services on a forthcoming book. 
I’ve been in contact with her since the close of the campaign. Here’s her suggestion for follow up since Patterns didn’t get chosen, basically how to turn the rejection by Scout into a positive.

Had I known that before I started, some percentage of my post soliciting nominations would have included the “free book either way” plan. I tried it with Patterns.

All non-selected books get the same verbiage notification when the author publishes them on Kindle, so I had to try and get folks who nominated to take me up on the free book offer. It sputtered. Fewer than 100 copies were downloaded during the 5-day span. Over a week later, not a single review has been posted.

On the plus side, as you can see by the photo below, Patterns was in the top 3175 Free Kindle books on the first day—only 32 downloads. If 400 people —that’s only 25% of the site visits—would have downloaded the book, I suspect that would have gotten Amazon’s attention.

Amazon's algorithm for what book to publish is not public record. I've nominated about a dozen books. I thought four of them were top drawer. Only one was selected for publication, and that one was selected early in the program's existence. 

Nominations and Hot and Trending must be connected. I've decided that how many nominations you get over a given time period must be the driving forces in the selection of a book for publication.

That being said, KindleScout now has a ranking system for authors who post books. 

My score and rank in the photo are the October 14, 2017, numbers. Here are the current top 8 authors that day as well.

Methinks that this ranking and what it takes to get points is a sizable chunk of the selection algorithm's matrix.

Kindle allows up to 30 days for each author to “polish” an accepted manuscript. It took me 27 days to get Patterns ready for Kindle after the rejection slip. That was too long. Too many people who nominated my book were “on to something else” by the time Patterns was published, and they were not expecting to get a FREE copy if it wasn’t selected.

Will I try KindleScout again?

If I do, I know I’ll change my strategies to include
  • Earlier heads ups to potential readers on the possibility of a KindleScout campaign.
  • More focused posts on Twitter.
  • Mentioning the FREE book option whether the book is selected for publication or not.
  • Having the book ready to publish through Kindle IMMEDIATELY if it’s not selected.

BTW: No more than two of the books in the thirty-day cohort that Patterns was in were selected for publication.

If you found this series informative, please spread the word. Thanks!

Next Authors post is Reprised/Revised Archival Posts

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Teachers. Grading Through the Years #10 Final Comments

This is the final post on grading.
That’s not to imply, infer, or any other “i-word” that this is the final word on grading.
The post is, however, all I have to say about the subject at this moment in time.

There are districts and school sites that have implemented grading school-wide protocols. I can’t imagine the number of those decreasing to any great extent over the next few years. The local autonomy I lived during my early years at Monte Vista High was replaced by district-level control with the implementation of academic content standards.
Common Core and associated movements like Next Generation Science Standards—NGSS—are nation-wide “reforms.” School boards will not forget dollars invested in such programs. In my crystal ball, the foreseeable future is one of an increase in top-down ideas and decreased spontaneity by teachers in content, process, and grading.

While I’m glad that I retired before this switch was complete, I know that there are teachers who will implement strategies that they know is the best for their students. While such strategies might not originate in the current reform box, in my experience, good teaching by good teachers will continue, in spite of the reformation de jour.

I’m closing this series by presenting portfolios as a way for students to take ownership for their grades. The example is from an integrated science program in the mid-1990s. Some of us used the idea for two years at Great Oak High School a decade later. Focus on the ideas, not the specific verbiage.

While at Monte Vista, the Science Department used portfolios to help students track their progress in specific skills and content. A team of Monte Vista teachers designed program. I wrote most of a four-volume series, one per semester, of texts. The Grossmont Union High School District published the series. I know schools in Los Angeles, Denver, and Houston purchased some of them.

Here’s the mailer the district sent out nationwide.

For a brief period of time, I got to teach material I helped select using methods I helped implement supported by textbooks of which I was the primary author.

I told you that things were different for teachers during the first half of my career!

These are the directions for each "Portfolio Day." We had one per grading period. The entire class period was devoted to portfolio-associated work. 

As the semester went along, there were more items from which to choose for each category. Replacing an entry with a better one was encouraged.

Below is the two-sided cover sheet stapled to each student portfolio item.

The categories were for our science classes at Monte Vista. We did laboratory reports instead of drawings at Great Oak. The Independent Student Choice is any assignment the student wanted to showcase.

You should have categories that are common to many units in your curriculum.

Here are the Teacher Notes for the process.

If you'd like a PDF of complete pages shown above, email me at the address below.

Over the course of the year, it was inspiring to hear students while looking at work they identified as the "best" months earlier say such thing as

  • "I can't believe I thought this was good!"
  • "I've improved so much at <topic>."
  • "I'm glad we can switch these old ones with newer, better ones."

The first portfolio entry for each category was graded after one of the Portfolio Days. The completed portfolio was graded as well. Only new items were scored. The grade for each graded item was included as part of the final portfolio score.

One goal of every teacher must be to teach students the value of improving over time. The best way I've used is the student portfolio.

Next: Why I'm Not a Professional Athlete

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Teachers. Grading Through the Years #9: Semester Grades (continued)

Categories in this year were based on California State Standards for the course. For the most part, the first six categories contained all the assignments--homework, tests, writing assignments, etc.--that related to the content in that standard. Notice in the left column that #24 is "Unit 1 m/c E7." That was the multiple choice portion of the unit exam on Standard #3 E7-Earth Science.
My first experience with “computer grades” was in the mid-1980s. I’ve described my first computer in an earlier blog,
I used it for word-processing and keeping track of student scores. There were no grading programs for the CP/M operating system. There weren’t many programs at all. I used the spreadsheet that came with the machine. It was Perfect.
The word processor was PerfectWriter. The spreadsheet was PerfectCalc.

I learned two things within hours of posting my first grade printout on the wall.
I needed to come up with some form of anonymous code to use for public posts.
Students thought that computer grades had to be correct—after all, they were from a computer.

I was still “keeper of all the points in the universe,” so my theory on grading didn’t change. It was sooo much quicker and easier to calculate grades when they were in a spreadsheet. Life was good.

At that time the Grossmont Union High School District required teachers to submit “Blue Cards” with each student’s grade handwritten in the proper column on a blue-colored cardstock form.

It was in my second or third year of using the spreadsheet for grades that I managed to find the spacing between lines required to fit the lines on the Blue Card. I printed my grades, carefully aligned the page to fit the spaces on the Blue Card, glued each printout onto the card, signed the “Teacher Signature” line, and handed the card to the Attendance Clerk. She was the collector of the grades.

The next day, I had a note in my mailbox to see one of the Vice Principals.

“We can't send your Blue Card to the district,” he said.
“Why not?”
“It’s not handwritten.”
“The grades are accurate and every grade is lined up with the correct space on each card.”
“They want handwritten Blue Cards.” He handed me my cards.

I recopied my grades that one time only.

At the end of the year, I told the VP that there was less chance of me posting an incorrect with my system than when I hand wrote them. I handed him my glued on printout, hand-signed Blue Cards.

I don’t know if someone in the office pulled off the printout and handwrote the grades above my signature that semester. I hope not. But, I turned in my glued/hand-signed Blue Cards for the next 10-years or so, until I left the district.

The biggest change in my grading procedure over my career occurred while I was teaching my last high school courses at Great Oak High in Temecula, California.

I was the last science teacher, figuratively dragged kicking and screaming, into grouping like content or like assignment-type scores into categories. Regardless of the number of assignments or points in a category, it was worth a fixed percentage of the final grade. The image below is a grade printout with categories listed.

The most important thing I learned about using categories in grading is this:
Neither students nor parents understand how grades are calculated.
That is a gross generalization. It’s also not far from the truth.

The worst “innovation” in grading is allowing students and parents to “real time grades.” This phenomenon reared its ugly head when grades went online. Students and teachers could check their current grade—real time—by logging in to the grading program.

At first, teachers could “hold” a set of grades in one category until other grades were recorded. Releasing four or five grades in a category is a much more realistic description than the grade after a single entry in that category.

Once teachers lost the control to put a set of grades on hold, every grade input into the grade program was immediately accessible to parents and students. I’ve received emails from parents who were online while I was posting grades during my preparation period demanding to know “why <student name>’s grade dropped from an A to a C.”

Ultimately, no grade is real until the final semester grade turned in for the student’s permanent record. Most parents, and many students, are not satisfied with that reality.

What follows is an attempt that my co-teacher and I made to explain how our categorical grading system worked. We took class time to go through the letter with our students. We sent the letter home with the students.

Hello, Parents.
While we don't believe personally that it is necessary for anyone to have 24-hour access to student grades, it is district policy. For that reason grades in our class will appear in real time.
Because pre-AP biology uses categories, no one assignment can make or break any student’s grade. For example, the entire first unit your student completed, Scientific Method, is worth a total of 2% of their final grade. The next unit, Chemistry, is worth 13%. Please ask your student for the complete listing of categories and their values. Another way to put this idea of weighted categories is:
Each point in the Scientific Method category is worth 2 points in the final semester grade calculation, however, each point in the chemistry Unit is worth 13 points in the final semester grade calculation
All assignments whether lab, in class activities, homework, projects, or tests, are recorded within the category for the unit in which they occur. Since each category has a unique percentage value, individual grades on assignments have slightly different weights in different units/categories.
Because of the waiting of categories, the first assignment recorded in any category has a disproportionate value. For example, the first assignment in the chemistry unit will be worth 17% of the student’s final grade at that moment in time. However, when the unit is completed, that assignment will have a significantly less impact on your student’s grade, than it did when it was entered. Not only does the first assignment in a category account for the total percentage value of that category, it also is weighted temporarily at more than the value percentage of the category.
To continue our example from above:
If a student received 55/66 (83%) for the Scientific Method unit, and the first grade recorded in Chemistry was 4/10 (40%) on a quiz, because of the weighting, the quiz grade is 100% of the Chemistry unit weight at that moment in time. The student’s grade plummets to failing AT THAT MOMENT IN TIME ONLY.
Grades currently posted are for the Scientific Method unit that is worth 2% of the ultimate grade in this class. However, at this moment in time, that grade appears as the course grade. This is an aberration. When the Chemistry unit is completed, 15% of the total ultimate class grade will have been earned. But, when you look at the grades at the end of the chemistry unit, the chemistry unit itself is worth six times the scientific method grade. In other words even if a student did very well in the Scientific Method unit, if they did not do as well in chemistry, the lesser (Chemistry) grade would be six times the value of the good (Scientific Method) grade.
Hopefully this letter will help ease your mind when you look at grades from time to time. If you look at the grade and it's a C+ and the next time you look at it it's a C-, that's probably not a cause for concern. If however, the first time you look at a grade it is an A and the next time it is a B and the next time it is a C, then that may be cause for concern.
Typically what happens when a new category is opened is that student grades go either up or down very quickly for the reason explained above. As more grades are added to the category, the overall grade tends to stabilize around the true value.
Please don't assume that your student is doing poorly in the class based on any one look you take at the grades from pre-AP biology.
Thank you.
Dr. Chuck Downing          & Ms. Rachel Larson
Great Oak PreAP Biology Teachers

In subsequent years, we added the highlighted bullet to our class syllabus shown below. This is an edited version of the document to show the general layout and the categories we used. We sent the above letter home before we posted our first grades online.

The categories are
·   3-ring binder with have divider tabs labeled: Agenda, Study Guide, To Be Completed, Vocabulary, Notes, Activities, Labs, and Cal/Syl/Safety (CSS). All work done, before and after grading, should be kept in the appropriate tab section.

Next: Grading Over The Years #10 – Semester Grades (The End)

Post #10 will be/might be the final blog in this series.

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