Friday, December 18, 2009

Some thoughts on grading...

Having just finished a semester that was capped off by grading 38 freshman composition portfolios, grading is still fresh in my mind. I feel I have come a long way in the four years I have been teaching. Grading is a tricky task, especially in English, especially in composition - it's so "subjective." No multiple choice. So I use rubrics and try to thoroughly explain what makes a paper a good paper or a not so good paper.

However, some doubts still linger, doubts also voiced by some fellow TAs. Like, "The student worked so hard and improved so much. They deserve an A." Or, "The student is working with a disadvantage, like English is his second language, or she comes from an underprivileged background. They cannot be graded by the same standard."

Here is the analogy I have developed. English 101 is like a race. The students sign up to run the race. The teacher is a coach. We make them run laps and give them pointers about improving their form or their time or their strength. Then, we mark off a course, yell "Go," and start the timer. Some students will have a natural advantage - they are stronger, they've done a lot of running before, etc. Some students will have improved a lot from the time they first started training and can run much faster. However, the stop-watch is what matters. If a runner improved their time from a 13 minute mile to a 10 minute mile, that is fantastic and they should be celebrated. But that does not mean that they have run an 8 minute mile. Some students will make stupid mistakes. They won't show up for practice, or they will veer off the course, or they will come without their shoes. They will have a lousy time, but the coach can't adjust their time, give them extra-credit.

I think that the problem lies with conflating a grade with a reward. And I have to confess that I did this for the entirety of my student career - my self-worth was entirely mixed up with the grades I received. But the grade is not the reward, it is just the assesment, it's your time. It shows you how well you have done, what your abilities are, and how you could improve. It is a valuable tool for a runner, as a grade is for a student. This is why grade inflation is so ridiculous. Giving a student an A when he has done B- work, is like telling a runner who runs a 10 minute mile that he can run an 8 minute mile. He will be unaware of the training he needs and at the next race, he will be overwhelmed when he is passed.

From what I have gathered, there is a lot of debate on process-value and product-value in composition circles. Do you place value on the student's ability to master the process of writing, shown through revision, or do you place the value on the final product they have written? It seems to me that perhaps there is another way of looking at it, not just process or product but performance - if you run well with good form and a lot of miles of practice behind you, you're going to have an impressive time - performance seems to encompass both the final product and the process that it took to achieve it.

Anyway, thoughts?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Timeline of a Migraine

Indulging myself with complaining. If self-pity isn't your thing, look away.

Sunday night, 7:30 - headache begins, having been precipitated by not eating at the usual time because we were doing the Christmas play - in combination with the extreme performance anxiety (I had a solo) and the glaring stage lights that shone in my face the whole time, this is apparently the perfect storm to cause a migraine for me. I am still trying to determine if there was something that I ate as well. I was shocked to see photos of myself taken an hour before the migraine began showed me with a puffy face - my fat face. I am beginning to think that this is a warning sign that a migraine is imminent - my eyes were also weird looking. That night I go to bed, thinking I'll sleep it off as usual.

Monday morning - I sleep in well past my usual wake-up time and find that the headache has not disappeared in the night. It varies in intensity throughout the day. At 4:00 I finally take my prescription migraine medication, fully expecting to be better by 6:00 - it usually takes about two hours to work. No dice. I go to bed that night thinking, surely this will be gone by the time I wake up.

Tuesday morning 3:30am - the worst has happened (I think). The headache is so bad that is wakes me up. I get up, take another dose of the Rx (I don't realize it at the time, because I have a migraine at 3:30am, but this is the third time in one week that I take the meds - I'm only supposed to have them twice a week) I lay on the couch with an ice-pack waiting for the meds to kick in. Again, nothing. Around 4:30 am, I go back to bed, still with an aching head.

Tuesday - the pain does not let up. It feels like a grappling hook is lodged in my skull, directly above my right eye. Later, it spreads back across my head, so that there is an equally painful grappling hook at the base of my skull, right above my neck. Light is blinding, everything is too loud, and I can smell everything. I try everything. A hot bath, an ice pack, laying down, stretching, deep breathing. I even workout on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes, because sometimes cardio can stop a headache for me. This is excruciating - I'm sure people watching me wondered why some girl was on the elliptical was running with her eyes squeezed shut, gripping her forehead. Nothing worked. I ended up laying several hours on the couch with the ice-pack, which would normally numb even the worst pain, but I can still feel it. I go to bed around 10.

Wednesday morning 1:00am - I wake up with the worst headache pain I have ever felt. The grappling hooks have been joined by a screwdriver that is being ground into my right temple. I consider my options. There won't be anyone there if I call my neurologist's office. If I go the emergency room, I'm not sure what they would do, or if my insurance would pay for it. If I can manage to make it to tomorrow, I would have to find somebody to drive me to doctor. I get up and bring the ice-pack back to bed with me, and start praying, the repetitive half-conscious prayers of the desparate. A half hour later, I realize that the pain has lessened: I begin half-consious prayers of thanksgiving and slide into sleep.

Wednesday: I now have what I believe is a migraine hangover - postdrome. I don't have actual headache pain, but it's like I can still feel a delicate pressure - the barbs of the grappling hooks resting against my skull rather than piercing it. And if I move too quickly, I'm rewarded with a sharp, stabbing pain. I'm still tired. But overall, I feel better. I hope that this is it. I never want to feel that way again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ties for the Guys

I love monograms, and while I wish that my hand-embroidery had the precision of machine-embroidery, I think that these turned out OK. By the way, Ross has great ties at really good prices.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Homemade Christmas

A necklace and earrings I made for my mother-in-law. I love these colors. The pearls are a maroon-brown, the larger carved beads are pale earthy shades of cream, jade, and rose, and the round, flat beads are opalescent amber-gold.

New Favorite Salmon Recipe

From Martha Stewart's Cooking School: spray the grilling with Pam, slice lemons and oranges to lay on the grill, and top with bunches of oregano and basil. Lay the cuts of salmon skin-side down, cover liberally with fresh ground pepper and salt. Grill until flakey. We like salmon with baked sweet potatoes. Yummy.

Currently Reading

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke: Reviews promised that it had the whimsy and fantasy of the Harry Potter series, with the comedy of manners-style of Austen. At 700+ pages, it had better be good.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell: I really want to see the movie, but the book looks interesting - I love food memoirs.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose: Extremely readable and voyeuristically entertaining. I heard this guy on NPR. A college student from Brown, he tranfers to Liberty University (Jerry Falwell's school) to do an undercover investigation of the religious divide.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Am I Miserly Liar?

Within the past week, I have been asked on the street by three separate people for "change" or "fifty cents." Each time, I have had fifty cents, but I have shaken my head and said "sorry." I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt each time. It is not that I don't want to give some money - and in other cases, I have given money to people who have asked me. But, in each of these cases, I haven't felt safe. I am walking somewhere, by myself, already gripping my pepper spray in one hand, and I don't feel comfortable coming within arms reach of a strange person on a street corner. What is the moral imperative here? Clearly, as Christians, we are supposed to help people in need. And if you are reduced to asking for change on a street corner, you are clearly in need. I don't know how much of that need fifty-cents will fill, but that is what they have asked for. I still don't know what to do.