The Influence of Student Surveys

This NY Times piece from its technology blog is ostensibly about the innovative ideas coming from a tech startup that seeks to facilitate the surveying of students about their schools and teachers. From my reading, it looks like the company described is offering some great tools for schools to accomplish this. But I think there’s a bigger story here and something important for you to consider as you move into the classrooms.

First, I think many teachers feel a sense of ambivalence about student surveys: on the one hand, we recognize the importance of understanding how students are experiencing the classroom and our instruction; on the other hand, we recognize that sometimes students (a) don’t take the surveys seriously or (b) aren’t always capable of making sound evaluations of a teacher’s performance. I’ve had plenty of student surveys returned with suggestions such as “Have more pizza parties” or “We need less homework” that are really unhelpful evaluations of the classroom experience.

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Extra Credit: To Give or not to Give?

One of the first questions a new teacher asks about grades and grading usually has to do with extra credit. It would be nice if there were a universal policy that met all the needs of teachers and students, but that’s not the way it works. Instead, I think each of us needs to establish a policy based on what we’re comfortable with and our personal views about grades and grading.

As you consider an extra credit policy, I’d remind you of some of these questions that we explore in class relative to grading and assigning grades:

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Standardized Testing Craziness

Read this article earlier today about the testing schedule in Miami-Dade County Schools where the district testing schedule for the year has been posted to the public. Click the link to check out the schedule, and pay special attention to the number of times high school students and especially English/Language Arts students are tested.

Wow, right? As ELA teachers, one of the sad realities you’ll need to get used to is the number of instructional days you’ll lose because so many extra-curricular things are done through your classes. In the schools, I dealt with everything from school pictures to class scheduling to SEOPs to testing being conducted through my classes since every student in the school was enrolled in an ELA class, making my class the easiest place to conduct school-wide business.

But while I can understand some of these things taking time away from instruction in ELA classrooms (and I can even appreciate some of them), I’m befuddled by the increased amount of testing that we’re starting to see in schools, and ELA classes (along with some other core areas like math and science) seem to be special targets. The more I look over this testing schedule, the more I’m left scratching my head about why we need all this testing and what it’s designed to accomplish–or, perhaps more worrying, what we’re sacrificing in our classes to accommodate these tests.

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