Humility + Assessment = Success

 

I have always been fascinated by assessment, unfortunately I know not everyone shares my feelings on the subject. I have had colleagues who consider it a dirty word. They dread the thought of it, and treat it as just another hoop to jump through when the time comes to participate.

A pre-test here.

A post-test there.

A journal reflection.

Or the ultimate avoidance, just saying a regular class assignment is, in fact, assessment.

Unfortunately, those who avoid confronting the challenges of assessments are not helping with the end goal, to improve student education through meaningful analysis and feedback.

The reason that some fear to participate in a group assessment and decide to take a solo route is that assessments are looked at as inconvenient or difficult; however, these approaches often overshadow efficient strategies for approaching this dilemma, strategies that which rely on one, simple trait: humility.

I love my standardized rubric for essays. It isn’t perfect, but it is consistent, and students appreciate that. The rubric is based off of one that is required to be used in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. That system consists of 16 colleges and every writing instructor uses the same rubric for their essays. I was lucky enough to see that rubric be initially implemented as well as its evolution over the last decade into its current form.

Now there was significant pushback when the rubric was first forced upon the faculty. Arguments ranged from “but I don’t grade essays with a rubric” to “my rubric is already better than this one”, but top to bottom it was adopted.

It is difficult to adjust teaching habits, but understand that a standardized rubric doesn’t change the way we teach, it simply unifies the way we grade. In that way, a standard rubric is even less intrusive than requiring a specific assignment for assessment.

So what is gained from using the same rubric for every essay?

Starting on the class level, it is easy to get a snapshot of student’s skills improving (or not improving) over a semester. It also allows the teacher to see if the class as a whole is struggling in a specific area (I’m looking at you point of view slips). This lets allows class needs to be addressed on a holistic level through lectures. I do this with my youtube series “English Power Lectures”, but setting aside 15 minutes when essays are handed back to address major problems does the trick as well.

When multiple faculty start to use the same rubric the assessment becomes that much more valuable. Now trends can be seen over a much larger group of students, it is also possible to see where one class struggles and another doesn’t. With this knowledge, teachers can share techniques for dealing with that particular issue. This is the beauty (and truly the purpose) of assessment. It serves as a common tool and focal point that can start an analysis, conversation, and implementation of course wide improvements.

Now implementing something district or even school wide is difficult, so start small. Talk to a group of fellow faculty (or adjunct faculty) and do your best to develop a rubric that works for multiple assignments or essays. Use that rubric in a course and compare notes. It won’t be perfect, but assessment can always be improved upon. It may be difficult to unify your grading techniques with others, but remember that teaching isn’t meant to be a solo endeavor. Instructors are stronger as a community, and students will benefit from that community. All it takes is a little bit of humility.

Catch ’em Being Good

 

Thank you, Louise So. Reading your post, DON’T FORGET THE GOOD ONES inspired me to write about intrinsic motivation. As an elementary school teacher, I made an effort to encourage intrinsic motivation in addition to using extrinsic rewards such as handing out stickers and saying “good job.”

I learned that if I just narrated the behavior of a student, I didn’t need to compliment or correct the student. Simply describing the scene allowed the individual to create their own intrinsic compliment or correction. For instance, if a student was totally on task and following instructions, I would announce to the class, “Jennifer wrote her name and the date on her paper and she’s highlighting the nouns and underlining our sight words.” Now, Jennifer can create her own intrinsic reward in her mind and the rest of the class is reminded of the expectation.

I think the narration technique builds intrinsic motivation. Using explicit and relevant details sends the message that I noticed Jennifer’s efforts. Recently, while grocery shopping, I noticed how nice the produce section looked. I told the produce employee, “Your produce section looks beautiful. Every item is in perfect rows.” I think he was stunned by my observation.

I imagine that’s what most of us want – to know that once in awhile someone notices our hard work, not just our shortcomings.  As adults, we don’t need stickers on a chart, but isn’t it nice when someone notices our everyday efforts? Just like the swimmers in Louise’s post, recognition of our efforts encourages us to do even better.

 

Success or Failure?

 

“Did I pass?”, asks the student.

Testing employee responds, “Placement exams are not pass fail. Placement tests assist the college in making sure you are placed into the appropriate class. It looks like you placed into MAT 09X, ENG 101, and are reading exempt.”

“Can I take the test again?”

“Yes, students must wait 24 hours between the 1st and 2nd attempt and 3 months before taking the test a third time.”

“What can I do to improve my scores?”

“We have practice questions, an in-person test prep workshop, and a phone app that can help bring forward prior knowledge”

This is a common conversation that Testing Services employees have with students completing placement exams. We have the difficult job of being realistic & responsive, providing hope, and encouraging students to enroll in classes. In this moment a person is more than the results and course placement. In these moments students may be questioning their ability to succeed, wondering why they have so many college prep classes to take, or feeling defeated and rejected.

In this moment, Testing Services is more than just administering a test. We are human. We feel what the student feels. We wish the student met their goal. We want to see the student succeed. We want the student to know that GCC is here for them. We want to see the student come back for retesting, start classes, and persist. When we see a student struggle through a setback, it is a reminder that we are not defined by scores and numbers.

In these moments, we let the student know that we see and hear them. We let the student know there is hope. We manage our fears so they do not become the students. We stand strong, tall, and confidently. By doing this we respond to a challenge by providing support. We embrace our humanity.

Placement testing tells us what we know and what we don’t know. It helps students learn where to begin their college journey. Testing evokes feelings. Placement Testing is more than greeting a student, telling them where to place their belongings, selecting a computer or desk, setting up the exam, and printing results. Testing is a human experience.

 

Don’t Forget the Good Ones!

 

A coworker referred her neighbor to my swim class and I learned something from the experience that I should already know, but apparently I had been slacking on.

If someone does something correctly and they do not need corrective feedback, they still need feedback.

The neighbor, as it turns out, is an awesome swimmer.

In a class of 12 swimmers, it is impossible to have eyes on everyone at all times, so generally, the ones that need the most help are going to get the help first, and the ones who can swim well are given more trust to take direction and practice the skill.

My coworker reported that her neighbor didn’t think she was doing very well in my class, as I had not given her much feedback.

The light bulb went on. Awesome swimmers don’t know they are awesome swimmers unless you tell them they are awesome and then tell them EXACTLY why they are awesome.

Ever since that learning experience, I have been practicing my feedback skills with the highly skilled individuals. One technique I have found very helpful is to have them demonstrate a skill for their peers. It is such an ego boost for the student to be the role model for the group.

Assessment and evaluation is a continuous process. It does not just happen at finite points in the semester. It is a process that is woven throughout the length of the course, and every student should feel the drive to improve in relation to their own level of success.

So, in our efforts to help the beginners, we also must boost the experts.

Assessment

 

Assessment is tricky business. There are so many different options to use in trying to assess how much the students have learned. And I just have to say, that grading is not one of the favorite parts of being an instructor. I have been teaching for a long time. I have tried several different ways to assess the students in my courses. What I have found to have made the biggest impact on their learning of, and retention of, mathematics, has not been my change in how I assess, but how often I assess. It isn’t unusual, in mathematics, to have your pass rate fall within the (50-60)% range. After having assessed basically at the end of chapters, 16 years ago I switched to assessing every week in many of the courses I teach. These are major assessments not just little quizzes. After this change I noticed a pass rate that was 20 to 35 percentage points higher than before. Here is an example, my college algebra course went from 55% to 80% pass rates on average with just this simple change. I’ve tried collecting Homework, daily quizzes, collaborative activities, large group projects, working at the board, etc. and none of those had the impact that this did. The biggest change wasn’t necessarily that the students were learning more but that more students were learning. The big change I saw was that the withdraw rate went from around 40% to 10%. I don’t know if this will happen in every subject or every different course within a subject area but I have seen it work for all of the courses I teach (intermediate algebra, college algebra, pre-calculus, and calculus 1 2 and 3). Give it a try if you haven’t ever.

Keys of Leadership

Today's leaders have to be more cooperative and transparent than ever before.  How many of us have lived through scandals involving leaders at all levels?  How many of us have lost faith in some form of leadership--local workplace leadership and local, state, and national political leadership?  I'm sure we could all make a list of leaders who have fallen short.  Why do some leaders cause their people to lose faith? Why do some leaders fail?

Looking at successful leaders, it's easy to see why they have remained trustworthy and admirable. Michelle Obama said, "When they go low, we go high."  Leaders go high without letting injustices off the hook.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" went high, but he still shared his disappointment with fellow clergy and white moderates for their indifference.  Interestingly enough, the second sentence of his letter reads, "Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas." While this might seem like he turned a deaf ear toward critics of his vision, instead he explains that he would not have time to get the "constructive" work done if he responded to those opposed to him and his methods. He listened, but he maintained his vision and continued his work toward justice.

In education today, we have to continue to work toward what is best for our students even in the face of criticism, sometimes disguised in the form of budget cuts or other subtle acts of devaluing education. Educational leaders continue on.  Classroom instructors continue on.  When the noise gets too loud, we focus even more intently on our classroom and students because this is the daily work that really matters--helping students progress toward their dreams and goals.

   Finally, leaders emphasize input and cooperation from a chorus of voices. It's tough to know which words any of us say that may open up a great idea or shut down dialogue--though it's a bit easier to figure that last one out. Being authentic and kind allows all of us to take more risks.  In taking risks, we are able to achieve beyond what was thought possible.

Life Lesson

 

Way back when, half a lifetime ago when I worked in a lab, I learned the lesson of follow through. Or to be more exact, I learned the consequences of not following through. Let me clear up your confusion by sharing some back history.

My mother and most of my family go to a doctor in my little hometown, I will call him Dr. Big Stuff.  I never cared for Dr. Big Stuff, I just couldn’t relate or talk to him, ever.  I think it’s important to be comfortable with and able to talk with your doctor, to share intimate details about yourself. Not going happen with Dr. BS.  I was a young adult when I realized I didn’t have to see him, I could choose to see someone else, which is what I did.  Dr. BS discovered this fact one day and he was never nice to me again, not that he ever was in the first place.  I worked in the local hospital and had many occasions to interact with him.  He treated me with barely veiled contempt.  Whatever.  The fact that my Mom and family were his patients didn’t give me a pass.  Nope, I had rejected him, HIM, and deserved his contempt.  Again, whatever.

One day I received a call from his office nurse who phoned in a lab order for one of his patients.  I quickly jotted it down, and instead of going to the front office and filing the order, I shoved the paper in my pocket, I would do it later.  Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate.  I was a procrastinator from way back.  To be fair, I wasn’t such a procrastinator anymore and was very busy, running my fanny off that day, but I should have filed it right then and there.  I didn’t.

Back in the day we wore paper lab coats and they got gross, covered in all manner of body fluids.  Can you say DNA?  The following day I was wearing my shiny new, clean lab coat, going about my business when it hit me.  I remembered the lab order from Dr. BS that I had shoved in my pocket and neglected to file.  It was gone, still in the pocket of the lab coat I threw in the biohazard trash at the end of my shift.  Horror!  I struggled to remember the patient name and orders, but of course, that was also gone.  Nothing for it but to suck it up and phone his office to beg Sue (his nurse) to forgive me, pull the chart, and repeat the order.  It really was no biggie, not really.  So who do you suppose answered the phone when I called the office?  Why, Dr. Big Stuff, of course.  And heaven only knows why, I still question it to this day, but he was delighted to hear from me!  He was so pleasant and kind, downright cheery. Until I confessed my sin of not following through and throwing away his lab order. His voice got really flat and he handed me off to Sue as quickly as possible.  I know my face was burning with shame.  Seriously?  It was not a big deal, not really, an honest mistake, but it was a big deal to me.

What is it about shame that teaches us (me, for sure) some very valuable life lessons?  I need to search psychology books on this phenomenon, it’s kind of fascinating to me.  I swore that day to always follow through and try my very best to complete a task as accurately and quickly as possible.  And for the most part, I do a decent job with follow through.  When asked about qualities I consider most valuable in colleagues, I always reply with the practice of follow through, it’s right up there for me.  It tells me that my request and time is important, that the person who follows through cares about me and my needs.  Or the needs of our students and colleagues.

I learned a painful lesson that day, but it has stuck with me through all of these years.  I am grateful to Dr. Big Stuff.  He was a player in an interesting chain of events that reinforced a quality I hold most dear.  Our relationship has mellowed over the years and grown to one of mutual respect.  I email him for news of my mom’s health, and he always follows through, replying to me very quickly.  Thank you, Dr. BS, I appreciate you and all you do for my mom.  Thank you for teaching me this valuable life lesson.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

 

It is simple to say, “Be kind.” It takes more work to apply it. It takes even more work to synthesize it (Right, CRE Learning Community Colleague Sherry? I’m bringing in my Bloom’s here.). One way I think about crafting my skill of kindness is to think of myself, thanks to Carol McCloud’s work and my first grader, as either a bucket filler or a bucket dipper. A bucket filler is a person who practices kindness by proverbially filling people’s emotional buckets. The best way to fill a bucket is by being kind. Listen. Give a compliment. Show gratitude. Of course, the yang to this cheery yin is the gloomy bucket dipper. A bucket dipper is someone who empties other people’s buckets by saying or doing cruel things.

A moment of authentic kindness functions as a salve to soothe emotional shards of absolute grief, frustration, sadness, desolation. Despite this, research shows that our brains pack boxes of negative memories and associations, because of their impact, for safe-keeping more frequently than those that are positive. I believe that seconds of genuine kindness can reverberate, sink in, sponge through the bones eventually attaching themselves to our long term memory, and begin to overlap or push over and supersede the negative.

At the end of the day, we are in the work of helping people and doing what is best for students. When you have the choice to fill or dip, I hope you decide to fill and pass it on.

Video Investigations as Assessment

Photo by Cheryl Colan

Sian (left) and Merry (right) at SCC Tech Talks 2017

On January 27, I attended TechTalks at SCC and watched Geology faculty Sian Proctor and Merry Wilson present their talk Video Investigations: Students Presenting Their Understanding of Our World. From their abstract (scroll down the linked page a bit to read it in full):
Video investigations are a unique way of having students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of complex topics and establish accountability in an online learning environment.
I love this idea for assessment in an online class. Merry assigns 4 video investigations per semester, while Sian assigns them weekly. Their students:
  • receive specific guidelines for each assigned video investigation
  • see an example video made by the instructor
  • get a link to the free Screencast-O-Matic.com
  • do not need to be given instructions on how to make a screencast – they figure it out on their own
  • create 1- to 5-minute videos to show knowledge, demonstrate mastery or reflect on course topics
  • embed their videos into Canvas Discussions to share with the rest of their class

Photo of presentation slide on the Design of Video Investigations

Sian and Merry had some goals in mind when they designed the video investigation assignment. One goal was having a way to be sure the students were actually the ones submitting the work in an online environment. A video submission goes beyond plagiarism detection via Turnitin, because you are hearing the student’s own voice, and possibly even seeing the student via webcam. Another goal was to cut down on grading time. You can grade a 5-minute video in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how much feedback you write per student. Other goals included increasing student engagement and learning retention. Being top-notch scientists, Sian and Merry gathered data about their students before and after introducing video investigations into the courses they teach. If my memory is accurate, they found students tend to report they enjoyed the topics where video investigations were assigned more than the topics that did not involve a video investigation. Students also felt more of a sense of community, because they saw and heard each others’ faces and voices as they shared their videos. The process of creating video also built up the students’ information literacy skills over the course of the semester.

Photo of presentation slide on Engagement and Literacy

I’ve used video in the classroom as a student and as an adjunct, and I can confirm that having students produce short videos is an excellent learning and engagement tool. If you would like to learn more, reach out to Sian and Merry, or contact me in the Center for Teaching, Learning and Engagement for more information.

Choosing Your Side – Everyday

Never give up. Never surrender.

Still behind on Write 6×6 posts, but not giving up.

People this past week have been writing about kindness, and the opportunity to be vulnerable, as it relates to their work in teaching and learning. Ann Riley wrote about noticing the connection between kindness and vulnerability and challenged us to be the first make eye contact and to say hello as we walk around campus. That’s a challenge I issued to myself at the start of the semester this year. 

Often when I smile and say hello to someone I don’t know, I am ignored. And that’s ok. It doesn’t feel great, but I know that I tried and will try again.

Just as often, I receive a silent smile back, or maybe a returned “hello” or “good morning.” That’s nice and makes me smile.

But I feel like the real opportunities are when I see something I can do. When I ask someone with a confused expression if I can help, and I end up spending five minutes walking them to the right building and finding out someone’s name or what they’re here to study. Or when I open a door for someone loaded down with books, and see that they look surprised and grateful.

A lot of students tend to open doors for me, and I always express my gratitude. But I am really enjoying when I find a true opportunity to be on a stranger’s side. I feel like I have to be very observant and alert in order to make it happen. 

So far this semester, instead of just helping students find the room they say they’re looking for, I’ve made sure several of them know how to search the GCC website to find their teachers’ office location and office hours. I taught one student how to read the campus map. I helped a Muslim woman locate a few private options for one of her daily prayers. I made time to get to know an older gentleman who I see regularly on campus. 

I’m feeling that so much of the time, it’s easy to focus on my own immediate goal, where I’m going, what I need to do next. But it’s so much more rewarding to observe the people in close proximity and look for opportunities to be on their side for a few minutes. And this is a daily choice. Whether I’ll be on my side only, or let go of what I need at a certain moment to make sure I’m on their side when they could use a hand. Focusing only on myself makes me feel like a drone. Being on their side makes me feel like a human being.

 

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