The school is year is in full swing and I’ve been so busy grading that I’ve been neglecting to record my ultra-profound thoughts. As I’ve forgotten those, you’ll have to settle for my ultra-not-so-profound thoughts.
My flavor of SBG is working
One of the downsides of this new approach for me is the amount of grading I’ve thrust upon myself. Between two classes of twenty-three students taking two quizzes a week, I feel like the grading is non-stop. I apologize to all the high school teachers reading this, as they probably consider my grading load a dream; there is an acclimation process, I assume, and I’m still at the front end of it. However, I’m giving feedback and learning a heck of a lot about what the students aren’t doing well. The grade breakdowns (see here, for example) help me identify weak areas (either in my explanations or the background of the students) and I can spend extra time on things. For instance, we are currently covering circles and ellipses (this is my way of introducing function transformations) and one of the things I have the students do is convert the standard form into the center-vertex form. This uses completing the square, a skill I incorrectly assumed they had. I suppose I knew they wouldn’t have that skill (most of my math majors struggle with it), but I guess I just wanted to believe. In this case, I didn’t even have to give a quiz to know that the students needed to spend some quality time working on this skill. I broke the students into groups, threw some problems on the board and walked around giving guidance, but mostly letting them self-teach. This is quite a departure for me as I feel most comfortable lecturing and working examples.
If I didn’t need the quiz, why do I say SBG is working for me? Well, as Cornally might say, SBG ain’t all about SBG. Giving my students feedback has already helped train me. I know better what questions to ask of my students (during lecture) to gauge their comprehension. I don’t have to assess them to find out what they know. This isn’t new for me, but the approach has heightened my sensitivity. Students still aren’t sure of the system and not one has come to remediate during office hours, but I think this is because I promised that each standard will show up on at least two quizzes. However, no one is complaining to the chair or dean, so I’m good for now.
Oral Evaluation is having its ups and downs
If the few students who have commented on my system of lecturing to only three students are an indication, the idea is a success. I’ve had at least three students volunteer to do it again and one begged me to make an exception to my rule that you can only do it once per third of the course (this rule is a practical one, not an attempt at cruelty). On the other hand, I find two things difficult with the system. First, it slows me down (probably a good thing). Second, I need a lot more practice in asking questions. Too often I ask either the wrong questions or answer the right questions myself. I may be trying to channel Michel Thomas in the classroom, but Michel Thomas I am not. Third, I haven’t found a good rubric for grading it. I take off points for tardiness and being unprepared, but I don’t really have a good feeling for how to translate their performance into a grade. In the end, I’m giving obscenely high grades and think that it is going to act as unintentional grade inflation. So, that’s not so cool.
Teaching to the test is wrong…now let’s see what is on the test
My precalculus course is basically mine to do with as I please, so I don’t have to teach to the test. I can test to the teach…er test to what I taught. My class on finite mathematics, though, is one of twenty or so sections and I don’t get to write the final exam. As such, I feel an obligation to get them prepared to ace that exam, especially since I have a darned good idea what will be on it. So, I throw out meaningful topics to focus on material I know will be on the test. Am I selling out? No. Well, yes. You see, I’m not. But…I am. I don’t like it and I’m having trouble looking at myself in the mirror these days (of course, being bitten by that vampire last week may also be contributing to my mirror problems).
Words of wisdom from a biologist
My buddy and pedagogical sound board from the biology department had this little nugget for me last week:
Sometimes the hardest thing is convincing the students that I can see them.
He explained to me that students are so used to watching TV, which can’t see them back, that they forget a professor can see what they’re doing. This certainly explains why they are so quick to text message, fall asleep, pick their nose, or try to cheat while I’m standing six feet away. A girl in my class was visibly trying to read the whiteboard residue during a quiz while I stood close enough to squeeze out the holy ghost. C’mon. He suggested that I appeal to their experience in band or choir. Those who’ve been involved in such activities will surely understand looking out at the audience and seeing someone paying absolutely no attention the performance.
I’ve decided that I’ve put it off long enough. I’ve held back my favorite tricks of the trade post, well posts, as I didn’t want to it being read by so many people. Now that school has started and readership is down, I think it is safe to release it into the wild. One of my all-time favorite tricks involves integration by parts. I have a pretty long post on the subject that I’ll break up into three or four posts. The end result is pretty cool and as close to original as I get. I also still plan on putting up my multiplication songs, I just need to figure out when to record them (the baby now sleeps in my office and that might be problematic).
Take care all.