Saturday, 24 December 2011

Much Ado About Nothing

Louis Lumiere, where's the lab coat?
My grade 13 chemistry teacher was a pocket protector short of the Jungian archetype.  With a slightly stained lab coat and coke-bottle horn-rimmed glasses, our homeroom teacher could've starred in any 1950s reel-to-reel educational movie.  No, he's not the one that got me interested in teaching, but he did inspire me enough to start my chemical engineering degree at the University of Waterloo.  He was the teacher that we could always get talking and was honest enough to say that if he was marking our lab reports, and the Leafs scored, we would get an A ... if the Leafs were scored on, we'd get a B.  He covered everything from cooking (don't work out the ratios with eggs, everything tastes better with more eggs), to working in chemistry (one day we used too much indicator dye to detect a leak and turned the St. Lawrence green) to life in general.  The only time I ever saw him speechless was when I left a 15 page categorized list of his quotations (with illustrations) on his desk as a Christmas present.

Well, one day he was waxing eloquent on life and advised us that we would be facing failure - either now, in university or in marriage.  Although this might've been in response to a tough test coming up, it wasn't said in a cynical way, but as a way to remind us that sometime, somewhere in life, we're going to take a few steps in the wrong direction and we'd best be ready for the consequences.  Despite my adolescent view that it would never happen, I knew that he was right within a decade and he helped me recognize that this was just a part of life so pick your self up and move on.

Growing Success
So we're sitting in assessment class, and we're dealing with late and missed assignments.  Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to do more than recognize both sides of the argument and all of us were chomping at the bit to get involved in this discussion.  Overall, it's likely a good move that our prof didn't allow time for more than a very brief statement of both positions; nobody's position would have changed through the discussion and it's quite likely that a large majority of us would be on one side of fence.  Well, the part that troubles me is that I'm sitting on the fence when it comes to this issue.  My problem isn't that I'll have difficulty enforcing the procedures set within my school; but, both sides of the fence do a disservice to the student.

The Restaurant Analogy (aka I don't want soup with my ice cream)
About once a week, my wife and I head out for dinner.  Frequently, we get good service but there are times when timing becomes a problem; drink reorders aren't requested within 10 minutes of our glasses being emptied, appetizers don't arrive before the meal, my request for HP sauce is forgotten, or the not so subtle third request to vacate the table within 5 minutes of receiving the bill.  Overall, I get the impression that this is the camp most non-teachers sit in - the timing is so intertwined with the task that you can't separate them to assess them separately.  Usually, these are the times when my wife pays since she is far better at the poor service means no tip protocol than I am.  Typically, I'm the 5-10% with a slightly stern stare type so when the occasion demands it, I pass the buck to my wife.

And that's the problem with this analogy.  Lateness becomes subjective so a hard and fast policy isn't possible.  If the restaurant was busy and understaffed, there's no sense in punishing the server who's trying when it's a management issue.  The waitress that has given us excellent service the last few times will get penalized far less than the one whom we've never had before.  Finally, the server that gives us the honest answer as to why things happened will fare far better than the waiter who tries to brush it off as nothing.  And, depending on the person and their beliefs, the same service by the same person will be rated differently.

The Growing Success Analogy (aka two wrongs don't make it right)
Likely this is the camp that many teachers and parents find themselves in. We're already assessing responsibility and self regulation on the report card, so why assess the student twice on the same skill.  If we penalize for lateness, we've double-counted for lateness and not fully recognizing the student's knowledge and skills gained.  So, we're best to assess the lateness where lateness gets assessed and let knowledge and skills get assessed where they belong.  And I would be able to do this but ...

I checked Brock's Undergraduate Calendar admission criteria, and it's based on marks, not the other assessment categories.  The University of Toronto requests minimum 80%.  Here's York University's admission requirements ... again completely average based.  None of the universities are going beyond average in their admission sections.  Checking Niagara College's admissions, they select based on grades with a possible inclusion of the learning skills under their "prior academic performance" ranking criteria.  Checking other colleges resulted in similar findings; the averages aren't specifically defined but admission is based on prior academic performance.  It seems to me that by removing lateness from marks, we're assessing learning skills in a way that's being ignored by universities and colleges may or may not be paying attention to.  And by minimizing the effect of lateness on marks, we're setting students up for future failures in life when they enter university, college, or the working world and discover that lateness is always penalized.

Overall, I'm not going to have any problems with whatever policy a school presents me with.  My thoughts are divided enough that I can apply either methodology.  I tend to be a fan of the obstacle course paradigm:  if you miss a deadline then talk to me, see me for help on that subject area, and then earn the right to a re-write (quiz / test).  And I do recognize that some items are more time-sensitive than others (larger projects usually offer more flexibility).  But overall, my chemistry teacher's voice is still asking whether I'd rather that they learn to cope with lateness penalties now, while it really isn't critical, or later on when it's far more expensive and life changing for the worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment