Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Teach like I say, not how I teach

January 24, 2015

As usual, the week before classes start, we had meetings. Some of presentations at these meetings are designed to help us teach better. In one meeting, the speaker said that for teaching math, the students should have lectures for only a third of the time. The rest of the time they should be actively working, instead of passively listening. He actually had us actively working now and then for a minute or two. I didn’t time these sessions, but it was between five and ten percent of the total time.

If a class runs for 100 minutes, they schedule it for 110 minutes and tell us to give the students a ten minute break. Meetings often run longer than that in practice, and in theory one speaker was scheduled for two and a half hours without a break. Do they really think we have that long an attention span?

Most speakers had good Power Point slides that were legible, but when I have sat in the back of the room, some speakers have slides I can’t read. A speech teacher I know once said that any visual aide should have two characteristics: people should be able to see it and it should help. We had some in the meetings that were too long to read without ignoring the speaker. What do they think they are accomplishing? Do they wish to be ignored? Or, do they want us to be impressed when they put long paragraphs on the screen?

If these speakers believed what they said, we would have very different meetings.

 

The quality of students at the community college

October 19, 2014

Two recent incidents in Intermediate Algebra (high school Algebra II) help explain the low pass rates of students.

In the first case the student was trying. He was supposed to be working on an online assignment which involved factoring of trinomials. I saw he had another screen up and asked him about it. He said he was working, which was true. He Googled the factors of 45.

In the second case, the student arrived fifteen minutes late to a computer classroom, where beverages are not allowed, carrying a cup of Starbucks coffee. When I reminded him of the rule, he put his coffee cup next to the wastebasket. I threw it away after he left without it. This would not be a particularly significant incident except the fifteen minutes he missed of class was from a test which was 16% of his grade.

These two incidents display the major reasons students don’t pass, lack of prerequisite knowledge and lack of commitment.

 

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.

 

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.

Why do they keep asking me?

July 13, 2013

I know someone who kept being asked to do volunteer work connected with her children’s school. She made the assumption that people spread the work among the parents and she was asked when it was her turn. Eventually, she realized she was asked because she agreed to do the work.

I’m near retirement. I’m old enough to retire, and could retire immediately. I’ve been trying to cut back on my non teaching duties. For the last two years, I was on a committee which was time consuming. I’m finished with that committee and thought I would have an easier time this coming school year. I got an email from my department chair asking me to take another job. This is the third time she’s asked me to take on a major time-consuming project.

I realize she keeps asking me because I say yes.

Job Security

June 4, 2013

I believe my job is secure.  This doesn’t mean I can’t be fired, but short of gross misconduct, I couldn’t be fired immediately. If they fired me for mild incompetence it would take a while, because the next time I will have a performance review will be in more than a year. Since the community college is funded by the government it is unlikely that it will fail and have mass layoffs, but it happens.

I don’t think I work less hard because my job is secure, but of course I can’t be sure.

I don’t know how much job performance is based on job security. But I find it interesting that students who are not secure about passing a course do not work harder than those who have solid A’s. I want all students to work hard. Of course, part of it is because students who work harder learn more. They are also more likely to pass. But perhaps it is more important for them to get in the habit of working hard.

Because if they learn to work hard in the course I’ve taught, they’ve learned something more important than the subject I’m teaching. (Don’t tell them I said there is something more important than math.)

Are we accomplices, part 2

May 18, 2013

Since writing the previous post, I’ve had several discussions with my colleagues about the subject. There are students who game the system. They know how late in the semester they need to attend class to be considered full-time students and use that information. That explains the occasional student who disappears early in the semester and shows up once, much later. It doesn’t happen often, and most probably have innocent explanations, but I’ve changed my mind about the subject.

I will be more aggressive about dropping students. I don’t want to be one of the people who allows students who receive financial aid for education to get the aid, but not the education. Nor do I want to be someone who allows a student with a visa, to get an education, deny that privilege to someone who will actually use the visa as intended. Both financial aid and visas are limited.

I emphatically do not want to be one of the teachers that allows a terrorist to overstay a visa.

Are we accomplices?

May 5, 2013

We are allowed to drop students who miss more than a week of class, if we have it in our syllabus. The student gets a W grade for withdrawal. I’ve rarely done so, because I feel the student’s transcript should represent what he has done. The F says the student flunked or didn’t care enough to withdraw. The W might be because he had issues that had nothing to do with the particular class. For example, his job might require him to work when class met.

Students who are on visas or receiving financial aid usually need to be full time students. The student who disappears after a few weeks of class might be fooling the someone about his status. Although we report the last day a student attended, a student could appear in class at the end of the semester. His record wouldn’t show that he missed months of class.

By not dropping them, we are fooling the government agency that issues visas or the source of the financial aid. The financial aid situation is clear cut. If the student doesn’t get financial aid, it will probably go to someone else. If the ones who cheat are eliminated, there is more room for the ones who actually benefit from it. The visa situation is harder, since many students need full time jobs to support their full time education.

Some students are simply fooling their parents, who think they are spending their time in college. I’m not all that concerned about that, although I feel sorry for parents who pay for college and get partying.

Should I drop students who stop showing up? I don’t know.

Are we supposed to be encouraging or honest?

April 19, 2013

We have a computer course covering Pre Algebra and Algebra I. There are twelve tests, and it is supposed to take two semesters, six tests a semester. I have a student who is taking it for the second semester. She finished five tests the first semester. Eleven weeks in her second semester, she added the sixth test and is almost ready to take the seventh test. I told her that she would probably need a third semester to finish. She got angry with me for discouraging her.

Huh?

The semester is fifteen weeks long (including final exam week.) If she can pass five tests in four weeks, why hasn’t she been doing it earlier, when the material was easier? Are these students so used to people being positive and encouraging that they can’t accept honesty?