What are tests for?

August 30, 2014

The last line in an article from The Washington Post was a quote from a Chinese official: “The habit Chinese students have formed is that they only memorize things but not absorb them. They forget about everything once the test is over.”

Most people think tests are there to measure students’ progress. That is not the only reason for tests, but some think it is.

The measurement of progress is reported to many people:

1. The student. This is often skipped in standardized tests designed to measure the teachers or the schools more than individual students, but the tests that are most important to the student should be reported to him.

2. The student’s parents. Obviously, this step should be done only if the student is a minor.

3. The teacher. Usually, the teacher grades the test, but with electronic and standardized testing something else grades the test. As a teacher, I’ve often used test and quiz results to modify reviews for the final exam and to change the emphasis the next time I teach a course.

4. Where the student goes next. This could be a job or simply the next semester’s course. Usually, the report is only a single grade.

5. Society. This helps judge the quality of the teacher of the school. It rarely names individual teachers or students.

A second goal of tests is to help student learning. Students often think they know a subject until they are tested on it. If the student doesn’t get feedback, ideally quickly, that student will have difficulty learning. How the students use the results of the test often determines how well he does in school. Graded homework, quizzes, and tests give the students an idea of how much they know. If they only study to do well on tests and forget about it afterward, they are not studying properly. Their actual learning will be incidental, not the goal of the work they are doing.

Unfortunately, American students have formed the same habits as Chinese students. If we want any real progress in education, students need to know things after they take their tests.

 

Be polite to strangers

August 4, 2014

Some people are too sensitive. Someone described an incident where a child was backing up with a shopping cart and when she said “Watch out,” the mother complained she was rude. She could have said, “I am walking behind you. If you back up, back up without looking, you may be hit by my cart. Please be careful.” By the time she said that, the damage might be done.

It is more important to issue warnings promptly than politely. Rudeness rarely accomplishes what one wants it to. Most people are not going to think, “He was rude. I deserved it.”  They are going to stop at the first sentence.

In this day and age of crazy people, I try to be polite to all strangers, because I certainly don’t want to offend someone who may decide to retaliate. That may sound paranoid, but it would only be paranoid if I dwelt on it. When I force myself to be polite in situations where rudeness seems justified, I almost never make the decision based on fear. I don’t think that people may be crazy,  only that I’ve decided to try to be polite. It’s like buckling seat belts. I almost never think in terms of potential accidents, just that I should buckle them. Unlike seat belts, routine politeness brings more immediate positive results than buckling seat belts. People tend to be nicer to me.

Another release

July 23, 2014

I’ve published a short story, Kidnapped by Fae, on Amazon. It is another story about Bengt and Tian, who appear in The Secret of Sanctua.

The Secret of Sanctua

May 27, 2014

The Secret of Sanctua is now available on Amazon.

 

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Locking up grandma

January 10, 2014

I recently returned from visiting my mother. She’s in an assisted living facility and we are investigating a memory care facility, although she does not need it yet. The memory care facility locks the residents in. While touring the facility, one man suggested I put her there now, so she can adjust to it. What? She doesn’t need it yet, she’s happy where she is, and they want me to move her? I would certainly be unhappy to be put in a locked facility when I didn’t need it. It would seem like imprisonment. No, more accurately, it would be imprisonment.

I don’t resent the freedoms I’ve given up with age, because it is the price I pay for living as long as I have, but I am aware of them. I have many limitations that I didn’t have when I was younger. I spend more of my time and energy staying healthy. It takes me longer to do many things. I have trouble learning my students’ names. The list goes on.

My mother was unhappy when we persuaded her to give up her car. I don’t blame her, because having a car means freedom to go places. I will be unhappy when I reach the point I cannot work, since the ability to work is another kind of freedom. She is in her nineties. She may never need to go to the memory care facility. She could go into a nursing home or die before she goes there. I am not going to try to lock her up until she needs to be locked up.

The Fall of Larkesong

December 23, 2013

My friend Summer Hanford has a short story available on Amazon. It will be free on December 25th and 26th.

The Fall of Larkesong

The Fall of Larkesong

Different priorities

November 6, 2013

I talked to someone who is working part time and claims he is under employed. He’s spending more than he’s making. At one point in the conversation, he mentioned getting a bottle of water. I suggested a drinking fountain, which was actually closer than the machine selling water. No, he wanted a bottle of water. I realize this is not a major issue, but if I were short on money, I wouldn’t buy water.

 

I do not want this student

September 21, 2013

She asked me if she could observe my class. I am not supposed to let anyone in who isn’t registered, but I was tempted to say yes. Why not? It wouldn’t hurt. But instead of giving way to temptation, I told her I wasn’t accepting new students. Three weeks of class passed. It was late to start.

She said she was already registered for another section of the class and she just wanted to change sections. What she did not tell me revealed more than what she told me. She did not tell me she had a conflict with work or child care. She did not give me a reason for her desire for a change of section. She was not going to ask me to accept her as a student until she observed me.

She was teacher shopping. I don’t want someone who was teacher shopping. They tend to be picky. If it took her three weeks to find out the teacher was bad, it wasn’t because the teacher’s foreign accent wasn’t understandable. It could easily be because the student had a bad grade or did not understand the material.

Another student asked me to let him join my class after two weeks of class. When I told him it was too late, he started to explain. “My psychiatrist said” were the first three words of his explanation. I don’t want to deal with a student whose psychiatrist is telling him something that makes him not follow the rules. The rules say one should register before the semester starts, not at the end of the second week of class.

I did give permission for one student to come in late. It was a student I had in a previous semester and a work conflict made him have to change sections. This student had two things going for him: I knew he wasn’t a problem student and he had a good reason for the change in sections.

I can’t keep problem students out of my class if they register on time, but I no longer invite them in when they want to come in late.

 

Restructuring

August 22, 2013

The community college where I work is going to restructure. If I go by the comments of the faculty, most of the faculty objects to what is being done. I certainly have misgivings about the department chair covering all three campuses and not someone who is in the department. I like having easy access to the chair and having someone who still teaches being the one who makes the decisions as the chair.

I haven’t paid much attention to the arguments in favor of this structure, although they were available online. In the opening meeting, the college president said we were going with this structure. Over the next couple of days, I heard quite a number of people saying very vague things in support of it. There is only one argument that I heard repeated: Good people will make any structure work.

Huh?

I am pretty sure that I didn’t hear the same message that the people who were supposed to support restructuring were trying to send. I heard that there is little justification for the changes, but we can make it work. Maybe I’ll retire before it does too much damage.

An apology is not enough

August 4, 2013

It took me a long time to learn it, but the best apologies often come from people who need to apologize most often. Of course they know what makes a good apology. They’ve had practice.

A while back, I dealt with a student whose anger was disruptive to the math lab. This happened before, and he returned the next day with apologies. While I appreciate the earlier apology, I would prefer if the student changed his behavior. An apology for behavior that will be repeated sends a different message than is intended. It tells people that he knew he was doing something wrong, but had every expectation of continuing to do it.

I once heard a definition of being convinced of something: If a person is convinced of something, he will change his behavior to accept that reality. The student may think he is sorry for being disruptive, but he isn’t genuinely sorry if he does it again. I would rather not have an apology and have a change of behavior.


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