Friday, September 14, 2012

school starts...

hi everyone,
   School started last week. I was nervous about it, because in June when it ends I'm always tired and disspirited and convinced I'm unfit to be in a classroom, but so far it's going much better than I remembered. The genius 8th graders have graduated, making me suddenly the best player in the school again. I had not realized how intimidated I had become.
      I also did a lot of prep over the summer, and that's meant I've felt on top of things, even when I have to juggle nine classes and multiple learning groups in each class. I've also become better about automating homework, so 4 classes have a standing assignment of 20 correct problems per week, which makes my grading life 10 times easier. I've pre-made a unit on the (advanced) characteristics of each piece, and so I just turn on the projector, click the forward arrow, and start talking. I'm using Johan Hellsten's Mastering Chess Strategy for my 8th grade class, and it's going beautifully. Greg says he disagrees with much of the book, accuracywise, but I don't care.
    My early morning class is awesome this year: 20 kids, all rated between 500 and 1450, totally enthusiastic, and I have them all 5 periods a week, and most of them 8. If we don't win the k-6, I'm a total failure as an educator.
    I destroyed them all at bughouse this morning. (Friday mornings, 7:30-8:20 is the only time that bughouse is ever allowed in my room, but I agree it's really fun.)
    The funny thing is that Greg's team, Masterman, will probably be our main competition this year, as we'll probably both choose a section to avoid the unstoppable-looking Cameron Wheeler team. We were talking last night about sharing a team room and coaching each other's kids through the tournament, which would be hilariously strange, and only conceivable with Greg, or possibly Matan. :)
    I'm managing the New York Knights, which is fun. So far, we seem to be underperforming, but I don't care, so it's fine.
    I saw my sister recently, and she took me to a Chinese supermarket near her house, where I saw things I had never seen before:
live frogs (?)

no idea what this is, some kind of seafood

assorted Chinese fishballs


super-long beans

a green vegetable I am totally unfamiliar with

I do not know what this is
 If I had brought a backpack, I would have gone shopping-crazy, but I did not.

    I have been thinking about teacher evaluations recently, what with the Chicago strike and all. These are my conclusions:
1) Cheating is an enormous problem. A freakonomics podcast looked at elementary schools in Chicago and found 3-5% percent of teachers cheat. Let's say it's 4%. In general 5th grade teachers are more likely to cheat, because if 4th grade teachers cheat, they penalize their friends, the 5th grade teachers in the same building. But when 5th grade teachers cheat and the kids go on to other middle schools, the teachers don't directly deal with the consequences and are also less likely to get caught because classes are broken up and the kids are dispersed more randomly. The kids that these 4% teach are scattered into different middle schools, so lets say an average of 2.5 dispersal rate, or 10% of 6th grade teachers are affected.
    Let's agree that it is absolutely impossible to raise the score of a child who has been helped. I had a girl in my homeroom last year who had a perfect score on her 5th grade ELA test. Then she scored a 2 (out of 4) in 6th grade. She was a nice girl, but slow. There is no way she was not helped (also she told me she was), and there is no way her 6th grade teacher will not be judged a failure.
    This means that the top 4% and the bottom 10% of teachers are not accurately rated. In fact, the best teachers are probably cheaters (nothing is more effective than a teacher taking the test for you) and the worst teachers are probably victims. That means that evaluating, rewarding, and punishing teachers based on test scores is probably 100% counterproductive.
2)     Ok, let's say you could fix that, I'm prepared to accept that evaluating math teachers on a standardized test is reasonable. But evaluating English teachers on a multiple choice test is silly. There is no way to measure good reading and writing instruction on a multiple choice test. It just doesn't make any sense.
3) Aside from that, the tests are terribly written. The first time I took the 7th grade ELA test, I scored abysmally, almost failing, despite getting a 1560/1600 on the SAT and a 2340/2400 on the general GRE. So many questions were ambiguously worded or totally nonsensical that I could not understand even what answer the test writer wanted me to give.
       English teachers should be evaluated on aggregate student work. If you can get a class of 30 kids to write 8 good essays each, 1 per month, you are doing a fine job. There should be someone in every school who spends one period a week reading the writing that each class produces and grading the teacher on the results, taking into consideration, obviously, the background and ability of the class. Stop paying Houghton Miflin billions to write nonsensical tests, and hire some retired ELA teachers to give their professional opinions. That way, if a teacher helps her kids, it's actually instructive teaching, not cheating.


Anonymous said...

I only don't like maybe 50% of the puzzles, which is pretty good.


Keith Ammann said...

A freakonomics podcast looked at elementary schools in Chicago and found 3-5% percent of teachers cheat. Let's say it's 4%. In general 5th grade teachers are more likely to cheat, because if 4th grade teachers cheat, they penalize their friends, the 5th grade teachers in the same building. But when 5th grade teachers cheat and the kids go on to other middle schools, the teachers don't directly deal with the consequences and are also less likely to get caught because classes are broken up and the kids are dispersed more randomly.

Something about this doesn't pass the smell test. Nearly every "elementary" school in the Chicago Public Schools is a K–8 building. (I guess middle schools are too "suburban" for CPS.) I think it's educationally questionable, but that's what exists. I can count the number of middle schools in CPS on my fingers.

I'm pro-strike and against using the ISAT to evaluate teachers, but the above explanation is simply bogus.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I am assuming the rate of cheating is not specific to Chicago. That's just where the Freakonomics guys are based. There have been major cheating scandals in many US cities: Atlanta, Washington DC, NYC, Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia, etc. Maybe Chicago schools are k-8, but that doesn't change the fact that cheating is endemic and that given this, evaluating teachers on those test scores is incorrect. I know with certainty that some of the elementary schools that feed 318 cheat. Our test scores from specific feeder schools and specific teachers in those schools drop precipitously when the kids come to us. On top of that, multiple students have told me directly that their teachers tell them to change answers. I feel bad for my colleagues who teach them math and ELA.

gurdonark said...

I had wondered how it is to coach kids who are at least one's own strength, and whose trajectory is that they are soon to be much stronger. I have a friend who was a skilled piano teacher, who described how at that point with her most gifted students that they are on her level she savors the times, because the lessons are less didactic and more like a conversation between people who share the same interest.

This week I have a new find to recommend in the 'cool free stuff' category. The Chrome browser has a free plug-in in the Chrome store called IdeaChess, which throws mate in 1, 2, 3 or 4 problems out, from very easy to moderate. Your 1400 and below kids might enjoy it, and it looks like a fun teaching tool. I enjoy it, and I'm 1650 or so these days. You probably know about it already, but I thought I'd give it a plug anyway. I like to plug free things.

I believe that if one is going to do student testing that matters so much to teachers' careers, one cannot let the teachers proctor the testing. One has to set up a whole different infrastructure of proctors, with the attendant expense. I am certainly not opposed to testing and even to testing being one of many, many factors in evaluations of teachers, but to me testing is often a symptom of the "mechanical rule, easy fix" that people bring to too many problems, particularly political people.

Chicago, to me, is very complex, but the teachers have the huge moral advantage of having cut a modest deal and then have the district renege on that deal. The anti-teacher bias of those on the right annoys me. To me, teachers, police folks, library folks, medical folks, clergy and the other helping professions are one glue that keeps our society strong, not the reason for its unraveling.

At the same time, there is a core issue that unions do not work hard enough to ensure that clearly unfit teachers leave the profession, leading to the absurd situations. It's a hard issue,because everyone wants to ensure that even poor, grotesquely teachers get due process,but the process should not overwhelm the substantive goal of keeping the good teachers and weeding out the truly awful.

Cheating has happened in every major city with such a focus on test scores for teacher compensation/advancement. My hope is that we all find a better regime to help teachers and yet insist upon accountability for students in more nuanced and effective ways.

Soapstone said...

On the more mundane, I think the clamlike organism pictured is a geoduck (pronounced 'gooeyduck').

Anonymous said...

Do you have any new girls on your team?

Elizabeth Vicary said...

Thanks for the Ideachess idea, Gurdonark, and I agree with everything you say.

I went back and got some weird veg and rice seasoning at the Chinese grocery, but couldn't bring myself to buy the fish. I'm trying to avoid excessive antibiotics in food, farmed fish, food from cans (PBA), cash register receipts, plastci deli containers, parabens in shampoo, all that stuff.

As far as girls, I have a couple awesome 6th graders. One in particulat, Nancy, became 1450 in one year and is a big champion. I teach her 8 periods a week and am going to give her private lessons once a week at lunch. very excited about her!

Anonymous said...

Any chance Greg would share with us his criticisms of Hellsten's book?

Anonymous said...

I have no criticisms, just think some of the puzzles aren't that clear, but some are great. Just if you look at them and blindly believe that everything he says is gospel and true, I think it'll promote misinformation. But I'm extremely anal about that kind of thing.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I don't really think you have to be right to be instructive, it's better, obv., but not totally essential.

Anonymous said...

It's true, I think it's a very good book! What I don't like about chess books is the apparent confidence that people seem to have in answers that aren't so clear to me. I wish they could occasionally say "this move looks good, but also this and this are good", instead of just being like f6! and ignore all other possibilities, when it's not at all clear that their evaluation of the move is correct.

Elizabeth Vicary said...

you're greg, right?

Anonymous said...

obv :) Also these captcha's are impressively difficult to get right. I almost always fail on the first attempt.

Anonymous said...

btw just to be clear I think it's a very good book and am currently mining it for instructive positions.

Philip Sells said...

Comments from the pseudonymous Anonymous (hmm, I might be able to squeeze a team name for the ATE out of that) caused me to think of this, which has been somewhat on my mind lately: at precisely what point in teaching chess to youth do you begin to bring in the notion, in a regular way, of there being multiple equally correct moves in many positions? One wants to avoid ambiguity in basic tactics or basic endgames, for example; the point there is to get a correct, simple idea and make it as clear as possible for easy digestion, not to muddy the waters. But how do you choose the moment at which to embrace this practical ambiguity?

Anonymous said...

I can hazard a guess at your mystery foods:

1)The frogs you indentified.
2)Geoduck! A type of really enormous clam thing.
3) Fish balls (not the only part of the fish you can eat).
4) Pretty sure this is bitter melon.
5) Snake beans.
6) Some kind of onion family member, like chives, I think.
7) Taro. Sweetish tuber-ish vegetable, also used in some sweet things.

Love the blog!

Dr Rob G said...

Congrats on Brooklyn Castle which I loved
I think you have more competition than Masterman. Newark Academy has 2 experts and 2 high A players. They beat out Mastermsn at US Eastern Team minus one of the A players.