Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Surprisingly, I received only one** email immediately after grades became accessible, demanding to know "why" (about a C+). Since it is raining, meaning no gardening or yardwork of any kind :-( [the grass is going to be up to my knees, and my weed whacker will be too wimpy to handle it], I decided to get the grade breakdowns out of the way.

I can see that the end of the academic year, the more leisurely summer pace, over a decade of college teaching, and turning 50 on the horizon are conspiring to make me reflective. So here's a scattered group of things that were brewing in the back of my mind while I was up to my eyeballs in assessment.

Students with special needs: According to the U.S. Department of Education, from 1977 to 2002, the number of children served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act rose by over 2.7 million, a 73 percent increase. In 2002, 2.8 million students were classified with specific learning disabilities, 3.6 times the 796,000 students identified in 1977. In 1977, learning disabled students made up fewer than one-quarter (22 percent) of all those with disabilities, compared to almost half (44 percent) in 2002. Autism increased 96 percent in those same 25 years.

Considering these data*, I suppose it is to be expected that eventually colleges would see increased numbers of students who have been identified as having disabilities. I notice it, more every year. It isn't something I mind, and it hasn't been a major issue up to this point. However, if the number grows somewhat larger, I could see a time when classroom aides will be necessary.

Dogs in the Village: For the past dozen years, we've been the only one of our close neighbors to have a dog. We've all lived here forever (at 24 years we are the newest). On one side, there were never any pets; on the other, although they have always had cats, after their last dog died (in the '90s), they did not get another. Then, a few months ago they adopted two small puppies. About a month ago on the other side, the eldest son moved home and he has a large young dog.

Our two (really just Sam) will bark almost without provocation, and Sophie, while more mellow, doesn't stop easily once she gets going. The two puppies are now nearly grown, and they are adorable, plus very excitable and yippy. The big dog is also almost grown, handsome and luckily, seems to be placid. But recently some contractors have been doing work; it was a barkfest plus machinery noises for hours...during those nice days we had, while I was grading. Bring on the rain!

Chaz: I'm not a Letterman fan but I watched the night Chaz Bono was on. I always watched the Sonny and Cher show with my family when I was a kid, and I remember little Chastity. I was very impressed by what he had to say, and I thought his openness was extremely brave. Dave was somewhat less jerky than usual.

Assignment changes dynamics: I am always tweaking assignments and expectations, experimenting, and trying to make assessment less painful. This semester I made a major change in journal and online discussion requirements. I eliminated the paper option for the journal, and combined the two into one assignment. The peer commenting aspect really intensified it. That always took place in the online discussion, but making the basis a lengthy journal post rather than brief, cursory dialogue completely altered the character of it.

I think the impact also spilled over into FTF class discussions. It was responsible for the edgy dynamic I noticed in both classes, more than the long winter, the kegs n eggs fiasco, no fountain day, the bad job market, or two student suicides. It seemed to spark more intellectual challenge. And the assessment changes worked like a charm! Adding in the requirement for students to enter their peer and group assessments into a blackboard tool really lightened the burden for me at the end of the semester. This freed up time for me to figure out how to evaluate the new discussion journal assignment, and it allowed me to make this reflection.

*Data:  I remember when I worked at SUNY System, there was a heated debate about whether "data" was singular or were plural. The things academics sweat! Reminds me of "Word for the Wise" on NPR (I have been perceived as nerdy for finding it interesting).

Added: I resolved the argument about data by not taking sides, instead forcing the singular v. plural, for instance writing "a piece of data" or "data elements."

**Finally, make that two emails, this one after the breakdowns were posted. (Another C+.)

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