Assessing Whole Students

by Matthew Koslowski on May 19, 2010
in Essays

“When I become a teacher, my students are going to look at my syllabus and say, ‘You expect us to do what now?’” my friend D. said. “I believe in the multiple-intelligences theory.”

We talk about the freedom that the Digital Age has given us for self-expression.

But has it really? The Internet is, largely, a text-based medium. Yes, we do have websites that are visual galleries but, for example, the website of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston — and even the galleries themselves — are filled with text.

Writing is becoming an ever more important skill. Kara Miller wrote an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe, “Failure to communicate“, in which she discusses how weak are the writing skills of incoming college students.

To some degree, it’s a mathematical problem. If it takes me all weekend to correct 40 papers, how can a high school English teacher begin to tackle 120 papers (four sections, 30 students per section) in a detail-oriented way?

–Kara Miller

I have thought about this problem myself as I pursue becoming a teacher. Robyn Jackson in her book Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching suggested if students are weak on developing opening paragraphs for essays, give them assignments just on opening paragraphs; if they are weak on topic sentences, give them assignments on topic sentences; if they are weak on the structure of an entire essay, give them assignments to write entire essays. I think of the hundreds of students I will have and how long it will take just those shorter assignments.

I admire D. She’s very passionate about challenging her future students and encouraging them to think for themselves. I admire that she wants to use a portfolio system — requiring tests, essays, presentations, and class participation — rather relying solely on one channel. In fact, that is the kind of assessment system that I want to use. But I wonder how much of our time employing that is going to require.

I have thought about giving students two grades per paper. The first for their grammar and the second for their arguments. Reading Kara Miller’s op-ed article, I wonder if I can really separate the two. If the student does not clearly spell out what he or she meant to say, then the teacher is just guessing at the meaning.

D., by her own admission, did not get the best grades in high school. She was not interested in the history she was taught and only rarely in the books. Her interests were more attuned to what she’s now studying, philosophy and psychology. She did not feel engaged with the work and as such did not care about the assessments she was given.

“Middle and high schools do not teach critical thinking,” she asserts.

I remember feeling that way as well. Disagreeing with the teacher in an essay was often a recipe for a bad grade, even in honors and advanced placement classes. And this was before the institution of high stakes testing in Massachussetts.

How can the MCAS assess critical thinking?

It cannot, and we should not expect it to measure that. The MCAS presents the items as if everything can be categorized as right or wrong. We can agree that Shakespeare wrote sonnets and plays, that his works were written in iambic pentameter, often rhyming; we can agree that Thomas Hardy wrote novels and poetry, perhaps we can even agree that it was the poor reviews of critics of his poetry that pushed him to writing novels; and we can call facts forms in which authors wrote, works that are attributed to them.

But on the meaning of the work, on the interpretation of the works, there is plenty of room for disagreement. You may think this passage was parody, was an ironic comment on something; I may think the author meant it as stated. The author cannot tell us and, in truth, I wouldn’t want him or her to clarify.

Ambiguity is good for thought.

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Thoughts on Libraries

by Matthew Koslowski on February 17, 2010
in Essays

In This Essay

“Do School Libraries Need Books?” from Room for Debate, The New York Times, February 10, 2010
“The Library, Through Students’ Eyes” from Room for Debate, The New York Times, February 14, 2010
“A library without books” by David Abel, The Boston Globe, September 4, 2009
“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, by Nicholas Carr, The Atlantic, July/August 2008
 

I remember reading in The Boston Globe last September that a private school in Massachusetts had given up its collection of books. I was aghast.

That Cushing Academy gave away collection of books, turning its library into a digital media center, continues to bother me.

Since reading that article, I have thought a lot about the role of libraries in our society. I have library cards for three different library systems here in Massachusetts. I joined the Boston Athenaeum, a membership library, last December after writing about them in a December 11th’s Weekly Review.

Libraries are important places. Digital technology cannot yet replace — and I hope never will — brick-and-mortar libraries.

I love going to physical libraries. I love browsing the stacks.

One afternoon while wandering through the shelves, I came across The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke a collection of fragments from Rilke’s letters, collected into thematic chapters by Ulrich Baer. Without the serendipity of walking through the stacks, I would never have found the book because I would never have thought to look for it.

I walked into the Boston Athenaeum on Saturday to visit again the art exhibit I reviewed last week, An Artist + A Poet. Walking around the new acquisitions displays on the first floor, I found Young Rilke and His Times by George C. Schoolfield. Again, I never would have thought to look for this book but I’m glad to have borrowed it.

That’s one weakness I find in my own Internet research. There is so much information out there, that unless I know what I am looking for, I have trouble finding anything at all. Reading from the Internet encourages us to read shallowly and seek a particular piece of information and continue on.

We have become sifters.

But when we enter a library, we are looking for knowledge in a broader sense than we are when we begin an Internet search. When we begin an Internet search, we are looking for answers to specific questions. When we enter a library, we are looking for answers, yes, but I think we are open to letting those answers inspire additional questions in ways we aren’t on the Internet.

All the same, I am no luddite. I know that the Internet is changing the way that we think and organize information. Perhaps libraries will become obsolete.

But I hope that we continue recognize the value of books and libraries. There are no pop-up advertisements in books, nor banner ads in libraries. Just as online, there are other things — more books, though, rather than more sites — vying for our attention in a library. Yet, I find myself able to become immersed in a book in a way that I have never seen translated online.

I hope that we keep these quiet bowers.

What are your thoughts? Share them with us.

Do libraries hold any special memories for you? Have you moved completely online? Do libraries have a future, or only a past?

Finding the Ferry-way

by Matthew Koslowski on January 13, 2010
in Anecdotes

In This Essay

The Art of Sinking in Poetry by Alexander Pope
The Epistles of Horace: Bilingual Edition (David Ferry, trans.)
The Odes of Horace: Bilingual Edition (David Ferry, trans.)
“For poet, classics translate into success” by David Mehegan, The Boston Globe, July 7, 2005
 

The other day I found a copy of Alexander Pope’s The Art of Sinking in Poetry in Barnes&Noble. As I began to read it, I began to think of Horace’s “Ars Poetica”, how long it had been since I had read it, and thought about when it began to take on a special meaning for me.

I felt myself floating after finishing my undergraduate degree.

I found myself fighting against ideas that I did not want to accept. But I did not then have the strength to put them down.

I still don’t.

Then one day I was reading The Boston Globe — only good things come from reading The Boston Globe — when I came across a story about a translator trying to revive the classics of ancient Roman poet Horace.

Read more..

Weekly Review: December 11th to December 17th

I am ambivalent when there are too many good things over the course of a week.

My attention is caught among trying to sift through all these different news articles and bring you some of the best that I can find. I want to share all the interesting things that I found but if my attention is strained trying to find them, your attention is just as strained because of the information with which you are trying to keep up yourself.

I hope that you will enjoy the articles that I have included here.

Do you have suggestions on how I can make the Weekly Review more interesting or more useful? Please comment below. I want you to enjoy the Weekly Review and get something out of it. I don’t want to be another aggregator that you ignore.

These Things Caught My Eye

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Digitally Divided

by Matthew Koslowski on December 16, 2009
in Essays

In This Essay

Digital divide narrowed, but lives on for students across US by Annie Gowen, The Washington Post via boston.com
 

How do we provide equal access to education when one-third of households do not have Internet access?

In our fervor to embrace technology, we are leaving children behind. We are creating a two classes: the digital haves and the digital have-nots.

The idea of a digital divide had occurred to me before I read Annie Gowen’s article. But the full impact had not occurred to me. I had not thought of how stressful it would be for a child of eleven or twelve to try to juggle getting to and from school when is computer lab is open with getting to and from the library when its computer lab is open.

When I first moved back to Massachusetts after more than six years in Illinois and the Midwest, I lived something of the digital divide myself. My experience illuminates problems the students have.

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