Saturday, February 17, 2018

Another Meeting, Another Depressing End to the School Week

This week's meeting wasn't quite as bad as last week's, but was frustrating.

We talked about assessment.  What do you know, most of our majors are doing okay or better.  Wheee.  At one point we were told that we shouldn't have too many of our majors doing better than okay, because then we'd have to change what okay means.  And you could tell some folks obeyed, and so their part of the major had students who were mostly okay, and a few better.  And some folks resisted, and their part of the major had students who were mostly better and a few okay.

And we all acknowledged that this is pretty useless and meaningless, and we're just checking boxes.  But we still have to do it.  And then we talked about whether there's a way to make it at least minimally useful to us without adding a lot of work, and we basically came down to: we need to have time to talk about what we're doing in the classroom, what we're seeing students do, and what we're looking for.  That's probably another meeting, but at least it has the potential to be useful.

It won't be useful to the administration, though, unless we put numbers somewhere.

Some people want to know how students perceive, say, their ability to do research.  In my experience, most of our students think they're brilliant researchers because they know how to search googlebooks, even if they don't read carefully or deeply enough in the 1950s book they found to realize that it's incredibly racist in its assumptions about, say, Othello.

Then there was another meeting at which we talked about colleagues, and that was good, because our colleagues are stellar.  My little part in this was praised, as were other peoples', and rightly so all around.

And then we talked about what search we'd like to do on the off chance that anyone gets to put in a request to do a search, and that was long and frustrating because it's unlikely we'll get to do a search, and we really need two positions at least.  But pretty much every department across the university is in the same boat.  And the dean's criteria (at least he gave us some for this) are basically, "shiny, new, not just replacing people to be able to teach your curriculum."  So if you lost a historian of antiquity, you can't say, well, we really need someone to teach ancient history because it's important in our curriculum.  Instead, you need to find some shiny, new thing to ask for, and hope the eventual hire can also teach ancient history as well as digital histories or whatever.  Because shiny!  new!

At least my colleagues are generally good people to work with.  We disagree about some things, but we were able to do so productively and decently, and that counts for a lot.

By the time we finished, it was 5pm, and I had dinner plans at 6, so I didn't bother to go home, but just graded, recorded grades and stuff, and now I have only one thing to grade for the weekend, and it shouldn't be onerous.

And I get to read and prep Gawain, and that makes life good.

In way better news, I had a really good violin lesson this week.  I'm working on the first Seitz concerto in Suzuki Book 4, and it's quite hard at my level.  I think Suzuki does a really good job of putting pieces in that make me work hard, but not impossibly hard to play them.  Part of this piece has a section of slurs that cross strings with fairly fast fingerings.  And practicing them, in order to play them all on one bow, I move the bow fairly slowly.  And on the violin, if you move the bow too slowly, you sound scratchy.  So all week practicing, working on the slurs, I've been sounding scratchy.  But I knew why, and so knew I just had to work to the point where I could play the slurs all on one bow more quickly.  But I wasn't there in practice.  I also realized that I could move the bow a little faster, and thus less scratchier, if I consciously used the whole bow.

When my lesson started, I pulled out my music and said I'd really been focusing my practice on these two difficult areas.  And I played one, and Strings helped me with it.  And then I played the slurred parts, and amazingly, and for the first time EVER, I sounded better in my lesson than I had in practice!  I shocked myself!  So Strings was able to give me some more help, and then we worked on some of the things I hadn't done so much work with, and Strings gave me some help on those, too.

And I got this new scale thing, almost more of a key thing than a scale thing.  It's called a one position scale.  The idea is that working within the notes of a scale, you play every note that you can within one position.  So, for example, if I start with the C scale on the violin.  I can start with G, then A, B, C, and so on, all the way up.  So unlike a regular scale, you don't start and end on C, but start and end where you can in that position, with any note in the scale.  It's weird, and sort of hard, but I'm starting on C.


  1. "At one point we were told that we shouldn't have too many of our majors doing better than okay, because then we'd have to change what okay means."

    Of everything that happens in the "Assessment" game, this is the bit that annoys me most.

    Our job as educators is to work as hard as we can to get our students to learn and to become the best at whatever we are teaching.

    My goal in that -- going in -- is for *all* of them to become excellent at whatever I'm teaching. I tell every class that on the first day. I want every student in my grammar class to excel at understanding grammar. I want their knowledge of grammar to be *stellar*.

    It never happens. But that is my goal.

    To go into that class with the expectation that half the class will be below average? Because that's what the assessment "rules" say has to happen? What will that do to me as a teacher? How do I look at my students then?

  2. We had some luck explaining to the assessment people that ours were standards-referenced rather than norm-referenced and citing state standards. But then we got in trouble for refusing to give an explanation for a .1% decline in performance. So you never win.

  3. Yeah, the criterion-referenced versus norms-referenced argument about assessment is an ongoing one... it's very frustrating.

    We tell students they can all excel here. We tell them there is no "quota of As". We tell them that they will earn the grade they earn. And by we, I mean the institution, the marketing bods as well as the academics in my subject - and yet the faculty then get all upset if our proportions of As vary...