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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What a way to end the day...

I just spent over an hour with a colleague, trying to wrap my poor muddled brains around some specific Assessment concepts, specifically so we can be sure that we're doing what we're supposed to be doing. The jargon drives me bats (construct definition, construct validity, content definition, content validity--and yes, they're different things), but getting even a minimal understanding of the thinking behind the jargon does help me better ensure that what we do when we run an assessment makes sense and fits in with the kind of reporting and explanations demanded by those who live and breathe the jargon. For instance, what we've called a learning outcome is actually a learning goal, and what we've called rubric elements are actually outcome objectives.

Perfectly clear, right?

Jargonese is part of why I have a hard time with a lot of literary theory, too. As soon as any field of thought gets too jargon heavy (or too intensely abstract), my mind shuts down. No: let me rephrase that. My mind runs screaming out of the room, tearing its hair and clawing as if battened upon by leeches. I feel the life and intelligence being sucked out of me.

Fortunately, the rest of the day was relatively tolerable: I got all the papers graded for today's 102, with enough time left over to mark a little bit more of the stuff I need to return to Nature in Lit tomorrow--and to eat lunch (miracle of miracles). I have a number of papers to grade for tomorrow's 102--but fortunately, I only got one more hard copy, so I think I have nine or ten, which today's experience demonstrates is do-able. I do have to be in class an hour earlier tomorrow than I was today, which is cause for a little concern, but I think I can do it. I'm on the fence about whether to set an early alarm; a lot will depend on how quickly I get to bed tonight.

In class, I helped the students who had actually submitted papers--and of course, to no one's surprise, the students who asked for the most help are the students who needed it least. One student is within a hair's breadth of an A: the student who had asked me what he needed to do in order to get an A. Let me point out that he asked the correct question: not whether anyone ever gets them but specifically what he needed to do. I said, "Be brilliant"--and lo! His paper truly is extremely good: I'm thrilled.

I was also thrilled that students started helping each other--two in particular. One student needed to see an example of how to write a good opening sentence, so I borrowed the paper from one of the good writers--and one of my favorite students this term--to show her. When I turned my attention to other students, she periodically took her questions to the other student instead of to me, and he was delighted to help her, particularly as she was making a lot of the mistakes he'd made on his first paper--and is no longer making.

He's one of two slightly older students in that class, young men who are fathers and have decided to turn their lives around largely for the sake of their children. He's good, and he certainly works very hard, is right on top of everything; I'm not sure if he can get himself to an A this term, but he sure would have to experience a significant crisis in order to get anything less than a B+. I'm interested to note that in that particular class, it's the young men who are carrying the intellectual load, for the most part: in my other 102, I depend more on a number of young women--and in Nature in Lit, it's a pretty even split. This says nothing about gender differences, merely the specifics of each class's chemistry.

After class, I ended up talking with Mr. Dad #1 and the young woman--I'll come up with a nickname for her later: she's very intelligent but she's facing a hell of a learning curve. Another student was listening in while she waited to talk with me individually--but all three of them were filled with enthusiasm about the challenges of the class. I honestly do not think they were brown nosing--and they were very clear in saying that the class is important, matters to them, is making them work very hard and that's why they love it.... And Mr. Dad told me that his professor for 101 told him that I am very tough but worth it as my students genuinely learn something of value. William reassured me of the same thing today, in fact: he said that his approach may keep more students in the room, but that he knows if we were to institute an exit exam, any student who'd passed my class would pass the exit exam, whereas he wasn't sure he could say the same for his own students.

Now all that is praise that does make me feel supported, validated, valued. And it does make me feel both proud and humbled. Genuinely. No snarkiness involved.

There's more I could say, I'm sure, but on top of the gritty eyes and hunger and mental fatigue, I'm starting to develop a headache, so I'd better drag my tired little self out to the car and head for the hills. It's nice that there's still a little light in the sky: this is the up-side to daylight savings time.

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