professornana (professornana) wrote,

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The HUMAN factor

One of the things that has become apparent to me as I enter my 37th year of teaching is that no two classes, no two courses, no two students are the same. Actually, when I see an assignment that is a clone of another submitted, I suspect there has been some collusion, some sharing, some plagiarism. Don't you? As humans, we approach tasks and texts with our own unique set of experiences, conceptions (and misconceptions), backgrounds, and more. So, even though we might be applying the same criteria to the task or text at hand, it is entirely possible we come to different sets of understandings.

I know that when I discuss books I have read with Donalyn or Paul or Karin or Rosemary that we generally agree on our overall evaluation (but not always which makes for exciting discussion) but we tend to focus on different aspects, passages, elements that struck us. Even as I served on the various book selection award committee of NCTE and ALA this was the case. Many of us at the table might feel the book at hand was worthy of being recognized; often, though, we would highlight different passages, words, scenes, etc.

It is, therefore, fascinating, that the last several posts I have published and the handful of other posts I have made reference to of late, all point to that same HUMAN element. Here is the latest: As Diane Ravitch shared on her blog, here is the voice of a NY principal who was rated a 9 by his superintendent (and having just gone through the merit process, I am SO familiar with this assignment of a number for my efforts). He offers, then NINE suggestions to the education commissioner. I love his first point:

"1) Our children, staff and communities are much more than a number. Instead of trying to reduce us all to a number (evaluative scores, test results, rankings, etc.) please take the time to get to know us and know what we are doing well because we are more than a number."

This is an echo of the letter from the middle school student yesterday ( who also pointed to herself as a person and not a data point. It is not that I hate information that might make me a better teacher and my students more successful. It is just that this type of information is not always in the form a data points, numbers, percentages, etc. I gain more understanding of how to improve from the work of my students on everyday assignments, from the questions they raise about those assignments, and from the final reflections they have about the assignments.

As the semester opened, I felt rather cocky. I had added about a dozen screencasts in which I walked students through web sites, assignments, and the like. I had revised booklists, assignments, rubrics, etc. It will all be clear, I thought. Not so much. It seems as though there are still things students want clarified. As I answer their emails, I begin another revision, another screencast. I am what we used to call "monitoring and adjusting" in the parlance of Madeline Hunter. But I am also noting that not all students ask for the same clarification. Sometimes it is because the student is taking a second (or third or fourth) class from me and can fill in the blanks from her past experience. Occasionally, a student asks others in the class and gets feedback. And sometimes they have enough information at hand to complete the task or text.

Such variety. Imagine if I expected the exact same work from them all. Instead, for most assignments, I give them leeway, ask them to explore alternative ways to display their understanding. And I am rewarded with some brilliant insights. What works and what needs tweaking (or eliminating) comes from seeing the work of my students. The data points I receive (the reports from the form my students have to complete) are useless. They come in the middle of the following semester; they are not administered in the summer sessions (and I do not know why but since these forms are of little value I am OK with that); and most importantly, they do not reflect my teaching. Instead they reflect students' responses on a set of multiple choice questions that have little to do with me. And then they are "adjusted" from the raw score using some formula that we are not permitted to know. So, I ignore these numbers and focus on the HUMAN element, the comments students provide in their reflections for the course, the feedback they give me, my analysis of their questions, and my review of their efforts and what I can do to help them be even more successful.

I went into teaching because I loved working with students. I miss seeing them in our FTF courses. But I still see them, not as data points or pictures on my computer screen, but as HUMANS who want to make a difference as a school librarian. The HUMAN factor keeps me going.
Tags: ccss, data, humans
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