Tuesday, January 27, 2009

the not quite conculsion

Hoorah!! Marks are in, comments are finished, and it's officially the start of second semester.

Even though they had already negotiated their marks prior to the final, no one in my gr 10 class blew out their final. In fact, only one student was out by over 10% which if compared to a regular classroom and final exam marks almost never happens. I'm not sure if this is because they prepared well knowing they needed to support their chosen mark or if they spent more time during the semester learning concepts so the final seemed easier. Right now I'm so burnt out I'm not sure I care, mostly I'm just relieved this experiment didn't turn into a disaster at the last minute.

Unfortunately this process really highlights the many flaws in my assessment and evaluation practices. Not to mention the very way most of my lessons are constructed and the activities that support. It's big work, overwhelming work, and the frustrating part is "doing little things" as everyone suggests is hard. Doing it all is impossible. So I guess the little things will have to do for now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An open letter...

To ridiculous co-worker,

I am inquiring as to who exactly you thought would be sympathetic to your incessant bitching today.  You were incredibly vocal at being displeased at having to mark 18, single page (double sided granted) modified math exams.  IT'S FINALS.  Over 90 staff members in our building are  busy marking exams.  The majority of the classes have a minimum of 30 students.  Aside from some sigh-ing, there was no complaining.  You know, because it's their job.  If you did yours, maybe this wouldn't seem like such a burden to you.

She who DID NOT mark your exams for you (even though you tried to make her)

P.S.  We all also have a lot of meetings to go to at this time of year, so you likely shouldn't complain about that either.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

the interviews

It's finally the time where I had to sit down and negotiate a mark with my gr 10 students. The whole idea made me nervous as who knew what they would say. Would they have greatly overinflated perceptions of their abilities? Would they not take it seriously and just randomly pick a number hoping I would do the "hard part" for them?

I'm about halfway done, and neither of the issues have come up. What have come up are different issues, ones that simultaneously make me feel terrible about the whole process and reassure me that though there are a whole lot of changes that need to be made, this is a step in the right direction.

It had been my observation that marks often get in the way of students really focusing on what they did or didn't know. The number was all they would look at when I gave them back a test or assignment. This semester, my gr 10s had a lot more conversations about what they knew, and what they were still working on. In a class of 33, a very minimal number or students shirked the task of "doing more" when they didn't fully understand a concept, the vast majority of students were quite proactive about redoing questions, getting help, and redoing evaluations. I don't think any of these students are functioning at a level where they would not be successful with traditional evaluations. Anticipating this from the beginning, it never occurred to me just how terrible I would feel asking them to numerically quantify a learning process. Especially when I think about how incompetent I felt helping them along.

I have one student who has not been able to give herself a mark. When we first sat down, I could tell she was very uncomfortable, so we talked a little and she eventually told me "I'm an 80-85 student." A large part of her identity is wrapped up somewhere between those 2 numbers. Anything less than an 80 is cause for a mini-identity crisis and she has no real desire to try to push herself. A 90 is nice, but elusive and almost magical. When I tried to get her to look at her portfolio to talk about what she had been able to show mastery of, she was absolutely lost - not even able to identify what were concepts we spent more time on as a starting point.

Another student's performance was all over the place, but he's had many difficulties with exams - making evaluating his performance more difficult since there are discrepancies between what he does during class time, and what he does on exams. He did a whole lot of extra work at home, and I honestly believe he understands more than he has shown. That considered, I'm not sure he can produce work to quite the level he imagines - yet. He too has a large part of his identity wrapped up in these numbers, and having to assign a number based on performance this early, relative to his learning seems like it will cause more harm than create motivation.

Many teachers, parents and students will argue that grades are necessary and difficult as it may be to believe, I used to be a student who would fight for every last percent and always wanted to know the class average. Once you start looking at the alternatives however, it seems the numbers really fall short of communicating much of anything.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

le cafe

I love coffee.  Pretty much everything about it really - the way it smells, tastes, even just having the warm mug in my hands makes me happy.  Considering this, I don't drink a whole lot of it - typically one mug in the morning when I get to work, and somedays a second in the later part of the morning or early afternoon if I'm cold.

I do however, typically feel terrible in the mornings.  This, I attribute to the very nature of mornings, not a lack of caffeine.  However, not having done proper research this may be a faulty conclusion.  So, I have decided not to drink coffee for the next week, possibly two, to see if it makes getting up any easier.  

I'm biased to hope it won't, cause I will miss my morning coffee, but willing to test it out just in case.  An no, just going to bed earlier is not being considered as a variable for this experiment.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

a wedding related post, dun dun dun

I've been thinking I should post about the wedding planning process for awhile now since I'd like to have some memory of it in a few years, but have been far too lazy. December can do that to a person. Tonight we went to see "Seven Pounds" and one of the previews just happened to be for "Bride Wars" and it pushed me over the edge.

I know, I know, this movie is supposed to be funny because it's so over the top and ridiculous, but I just can't get behind re-enforcing and even encouraging the trend for crazy, over the top, weddings that have nothing to do with getting married and everything to do with status and showing off.

Right after (and who am I kidding, before) we got engaged I started looking at wedding blogs & websites for ideas for our wedding. It didn't take me long to figure out this is essentially the female equivalent of porn. It's just all so pretty! I mean, who doesn't love a perfectly decorated room, with matching linens, gorgeous centerpieces, matching letter pressed menus and a "lounge" area with new furniture and accessories. If you're not careful, you could even start to believe that this is totally normal and even expected for a wedding.

Until you make up your budget of course. Make up your budget and then figure out just what that dollar amount gets you in wedding-land. If your budget looks anything like ours, it's not a whole heck of a lot. The real brain blowing part comes when you try and calculate what the cost of these "Real Weddings" featured across the interweb must be. This part, this is where my brain explodes. These "Real Weddings" rarely come with a price tag less that $50 000, and I think in many cases that's a very conservative estimate.

Not only do they cost ridiculous amounts of money, but they are all about "the invitations," "the cake," "the florals," etc. There's a piece of the trailer for "Bride Wars" where the vendor for the hotel asks both brides if they'd like to consult their husbands to be about the date they are choosing for their weddings and with barely a hesitation both girls give a firm N-O. Because clearly the fantasy wedding that happens at the Plaza after receiving the ginormous Tiffany's ring clearly has nothing to do with their husbands at all. They are simply another accessory that will be perfectly decorated for the day.

I don't know how anyone justifies spending the equivalent of a serious down payment on a home on one day. There are some who say if you have it to spend then why not, and I agree with this to a certain extent. I understand being too lazy to shop around, too busy to do some things yourself, but the sheer waste on one day still doesn't make any sense - especially when many couple put themselves into serious debt for their weddings. We all know where those $3000 invites wind up, and just how many days does $5000 worth of flowers last for anyway?

Don't get me wrong, we are putting some effort into making things look pretty. It is however, more comparable to the kind of pretty you'd make your table for Christmas or someone's birthday, just slightly larger scale. Also, I love paper, so the whole "need to make invites" thing is right up my alley to obsess over - just not in the $3000 obsess kind of way. But what am I really expending all my wedding related brain energy on? How to have a ceremony that's meaningful to us. How to spend as much time as possible with our guests. How to properly celebrate with those people who are close to us the commitment to one another that we are making, the beginning of our married lives and just how much we appreciate the support from everyone present that helped us to this point. Oh yes, and of course, how to do this on budget.

You see, I can't help but think that if we thought a little bit more about the marriage, and a little less about the wedding our marriages on the whole would be a little more successful. Or at least that's what I'm hoping for.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

happy 2009

I was thinking I would sit down today to do a reflection on how I fared with last year's resolutions. Then I realized going through the archives it would appear I didn't make any, at least not publicly on this blog. And if I made them personally, I don't remember what they were. So much for the reflection plan.

However, 2008 was a pretty crazy year for me both personally and professionally. Ringing in the New Year last year at a wedding with H, dating for just barely a month, I never would have imagined how different our lives would be this year at the same time.

Things I did for the first time in 2008:
  • rode a zip line
  • bought a house
  • painted a deck
  • hosted a party where guests really were expected to bring nothing
  • visited Wilkie
  • learned how to ballroom dance
  • agreed with a student that my assignment was unnecessary
  • traveled to Chicago
  • got engaged
  • bought shoes on the internet
  • took a real summer holiday
  • stuck to my Christmas budget
  • watched live election coverage (twice!)
I actually think this list is a little longer but I can't seem to remember anything else right now. Here's to 2009 being yet another year of firsts!