A Teacher's Writes

One teacher's thoughts on life, literature, and learning

College Course Evaluations as a Useless Measure

Michele Pellizzari, an economics professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, has a more serious claim: that course evaluations may in fact measure, and thus motivate, the opposite of good teaching.

His experiment took place with students at the Bocconi University Department of Economics in Milan, Italy. There, students are given a cognitive test on entry, which establishes their basic aptitude, and they are randomly assigned to professors.

The paper compared the student evaluations of a particular professor to another measure of teacher quality: how those students performed in a subsequent course. In other words, if I have Dr. Muccio in Microeconomics I, what’s my grade next year in Macroeconomics II?

Here’s what he found. The better the professors were, as measured by their students’ grades in later classes, the lower their ratings from students.

“If you make your students do well in their academic career, you get worse evaluations from your students,” Pellizzari said. Students, by and large, don’t enjoy learning from a taskmaster, even if it does them some good.

There’s an intriguing exception to the pattern: Classes full of highly skilled students do give highly skilled teachers high marks. Perhaps the smartest kids do see the benefit of being pushed.

from NPR. When I get discouraged about how K-12 schools evaluate teachers I need only consider how universities do it. I magically feel better.

Seth Godin’s Power Point Rules

Here are the five rules you need to remember to create amazing PowerPoint presentations:

  1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER.
  2. No cheesy images. Use professional images from corbis.com instead. They cost $3 each, or a little more if they’re for ‘professional use’.
  3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions. None.
  4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never (ever) use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have.
  5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They’re emotional, and they won’t work without you there. If someone wants your slides to show “the boss,” tell them that the slides go if you go.

from Seth Godin’s “Really Bad Power Point (and how to avoid it).” I think you can find good imagery without spending money, but you have to know how and where to look. If you don’t know what it looks like when you find it, you shouldn’t be creating these kinds of visual aids. I’ve also never been in a situation where a sound effect would have been helpful. But, oh, my, do I wish more people would understand the power of number 1.

Alan Noble sees The Road as validating faith in the transcendent

It’s difficult to express how remarkable this novel is. Modern readers expect a hopeless ending, an ironic ending, an ambiguous ending, or at best an ending that praises the human will to persevere in the face of a godless and hostile world, but McCarthy very intentionally validates the faith of his protagonist, a faith that is absurd from a secular perspective (for a lengthy treatment of this absurdity, see here).

One of the points made by Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor in his great work, A Secular Age, is that while religion remains popular, our society no longer assumes as a basic fact that the supernatural or transcendent is a reality which can affect us. Whether it is miracles in the Bible or God’s preserving common grace today, most modern people find it difficult to conceive of the supernatural. Ours is a largely disenchanted world, one in which we look inward for our hope and significance and direction, rather than outward toward a transcendent reality. And yet here is Cormac McCarthy, perhaps the foremost living American novelist, telling a story that acknowledges the weightiness of the secular vision (in the voice of the mother) and then denies that vision by validating a faith in the transcendent.

Alan Noble, describing a book he thinks every Christian should consider reading

Active scholars are better teachers

Economists have discovered that teachers with high SAT scores or perfect college GPAs are generally no better for their students than teachers with less impressive credentials. But teachers with large vocabularies are better at their jobs because this trait is associated with being intelligent, well-read and curious.

In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois, who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Tennessee, wrote that teachers must “be broad-minded, cultured men and women” able to “scatter civilization” among the next generation. The best teachers often love to travel, have fascinating hobbies or speak passionately about their favorite philosopher or poet.

From the Wall Street Journal

Thabiti Anyabwile appeals to evangelicals to call what happened to Michael Brown wrong

Orthodox evangelicalism is dead to the marginalized because it’s so allergic to the margins. It wants its mainstream, its tree-lined streets of cultural acceptance, its reserve and respectability. So it’s dead.

To be clear, evangelicalism’s quietude is not a case of not knowing what to say, how to say it, or being too distant from the problem. It’s not merely a case of leaders and people staring into an isolated incident and needing to collect data before they act. It’s not a case of not having media outlets and channels of its own. No. In incident after incident—proving a pattern, a systemic problem that requires eyes-and-mouth-wide-open denouncement—the church has turned her head, closed her eyes, and pressed tight her lips. The problem dominates local and national news. But evangelicalism changes the channel and carries on with regularly scheduled programming. Even if the revolution is televised, evangelicalism ain’t even willing to watch much less join.

And this call isn’t an attempt to guilt people who have nothing to do with some far off situation. No. This post is a recognition that evangelicalism is useless in its own back yard, with its own neighbors, while it changes its twitter avatars to identify with persecuted Christians half a world away. Evangelicalism should show outward solidarity with persecuted Christians. But it should also be the good Samaritan religion, a religion of justified people who demonstrate their justification in practical acts of compassion for its beaten, robbed and left-for-dead ethnic-other neighbors. Do we see that from national evangelical ministries and leaders? No, we don’t. Ours appears to be the religion of the Pharisee who asks, “Who then is my neighbor?” . . .

We pretend the world is large when the suffering of “others” is in view, but it’s small when it comes to the promotion of our ministries, the establishment of multi-sites, or the size of our conferences. We board planes, as I’m about to do Saturday, and cross oceans to preach in distant lands. Proximity isn’t a problem when it’s time to preach; why is it a problem when it’s time to protest?

from Thabiti Anyabwile’s post, ‘Is It “Goodbye Evangelicalism” or “We Evangelicals Join You in Your Suffering”?’

One consequence of schools’ obsessive focus on 21st century skills

We as schools are so obsessed with the knowledge economy and the Common Core that we can’t recognize or acknowledge what our students want to be and the real needs of our culture. I find this particularly revealing:

Across the country, skilled manual labor is in high demand. But it’s also in short supply. According to the Associated General Contractors of America, two-thirds of construction companies are struggling to find enough skilled workers, and 79 percent expect the shortage to continue. Meanwhile, craftsmen are retiring in droves. According to Manpower Group, 53 percent of skilled trade workers are 45 or older; 18 percent are between ages 55 and 64. There aren’t enough new workers to replace the waves of skilled laborers retiring from the workforce.

Given the types of jobs that are expected to grow in the coming years, the looming skills shortage is particularly acute. A 2010 report published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the fastest-growing occupations through 2020. Of the top ten, four were skilled trades: (4) brickmasons, blockmasons, stonemasons, and tile and marble setters; (5) carpenters; (7) reinforcing iron and rebar workers; and (9) pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters.

- The Handcrafted Gospel

Is the school culture that led to Atlanta’s cheating scandal uncommon?

Righton Johnson, a lawyer with Balch & Bingham who sat in on interviews, told me that it became clear that most teachers thought they were committing a victimless crime. “They didn’t see the value in the test, so they didn’t see that they were devaluing the kids by cheating,” she said. Unlike recent cheating scandals at Harvard and at Stuyvesant High School, where privileged students were concerned with their own advancement, those who cheated at Parks were never convinced of the importance of the tests; they viewed the cheating as a door they had to pass through in order to focus on issues that seemed more relevant to their students’ lives.

. . .

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ “infatuation with data,” their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” In a 2011 paper in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, he warned that policymakers were using mathematics “to intimidate—to preëmpt debate about the goals of education and measures of success.”

From Rachel Aviv’s story in The New Yorker about the cheating scandal in Atlanta. Unfortunately, I’m sure teachers across America recognize many aspects of their own school districts and school culture in this article.

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