Monday, April 26, 2010

ZZZ and The Honest Reflection Post - Response to Comments

Question ( you will be required to answer this on the accompanying questionnaire)
In your opinion was ZZZ
a real person in EDM 310?
a real person serving as a proxy or avitar for many other students in EDM310?
a composite made from several students in EDM310?
a purely fictional character whom I constructed to make a point I felt was important?

Summary of Comments (Required) on the post Honest Reflection is Required (the ZZZ Post)
112 people left comments before the deadline, three of whom are not students in the class. Four students replied after the deadline. Ms. Dorothy Burt of Pt. England School and Mr. Chamberlain both left very important comments following the conclusion of the open period. If you have not read those comments, read them.

46 (41%) said ZZZ should not have lied, or something to that effect.
Only 4 respondents made the point I was hoping to drive home: when you reflect on your own work you absolutely MUST be honest with yourself! In the syllabus the Midterm Reflection is listed as an examination. And that is exactly what it was - an examination of what you had accomplished so far in the course. I want you to be aware of how well you are accomplishing your assignments. When (if) you become a professional educator, you will need to regularly evaluate your performance. You have watched one example of that: Mr. McClung's year end reflection at the end of his first year in the classroom.

I hope that you will never be surprised by an evaluation of you done by others. It happened once to me. My first writing assignment in graduate school came back with more red ink on it than the black ink from my typewriter. I thought I was a good writer. I quickly learned that I had much to learn. You will be regularly evaluated by supervisors, peers, students, parents, evaluation bodies, and even sometimes by the public. Be prepared by being a good self-evaluator.

I also hope that you will teach your students to evaluate themselves.

Here are some other topics addressed in the comments left on the post:

There were several comments that were actually comments on the course (which was not part of my post). As you read these remember that these are not responses to questions I raised in the post and therefore cannot be assumed to reflect the opinions of anyone other than the voluntary respondent.
5 said they did not feel that the course took too much time; 1 person said it did.
10 said they used the questionnaire to check to make sure they had done all of the assignments.
9 described the course as overwhelming, challenging, difficult, demanding, time consuming, hard
2 wanted more feedback from the staff
1 would not have taken the course if that person had known “what the course was like”
1 reported being tired of surveys
3 said they had learned something.

I did raise two questions regarding ZZZ as a teacher: Would you want ZZZ as a colleague or as the teacher of your child or grandchild?
9 said No to the colleague question
14 said No to the teacher of my child/grandchild question
10 said it was wrong to judge ZZZ on these questions
4 said “it is none of my business”
10 explicitly said they would not comment on these two questions

Several respondents replied indicating their feelings about ZZZ
11 (10%) of those who left comments indicated they were not surprised that a student would intentionally lie about the work they had done or not done.
4 said they were shocked or surprised at this behavior.
5 said they thought I was being hustled by the student (I had suggested this as a possibility).

9 said that ZZZ should not get a good grade (at least at midterm).

9 said they had no sympathy for ZZZ
4 felt bad for ZZZ
4 said I should not have publicly criticized ZZZ, 2 going on to say that I might cause ZZZ to harm ZZZ
3 said I should help ZZZ, not throw ZZZ “under the bus.”

No one made any comment about the name ZZZ. I created that name based on the letters used in comic strips to denote sleeping. I thought at least one person would recognize and comment on this reference.

I thought long and hard about this post before writing it, and once having written it, about posting it.

Why did I do it? Whether or not ZZZ is a real person, an unusually large number of students this semester did not appear to have the key characteristic I sought to develop through the self reflection that served as the midterm exam: an ability to engage in an honest self-reflection. As some of you later learned, I already had the answers to most of the questions I asked for every student in the class. I was NOT asking you to tell me what I already knew. What I hoped would result was that you would reflect on what you had done so far in the course and if your work and/or attitudes needed adjustment that you would make those necessary adjustments. For some people it happened immediately, for others it happened near the end of the semester, and for more than usual it never happened. Of course, for the majority of students in EDM310 there was no major adjustment necessary, just a bit of tweaking or no adjustment at all.

As teachers (if you become teachers), you will have lots of students over the course of your teaching career. I have probably had over 4000 students in my classes. My goal has always been to develop the ability to evaluate oneself, accurately and honestly, in those students. I have that goal for you, too. But I feel it is incumbent upon me to tell you if you are not measuring up, especially if you can’t see that for yourself. As a teacher you will have to make judgements about every student that enters your classroom. And if you are unwilling or unable to make those decisions about yourself, you do not have the necessary skills, abilities and attitudes to be a teacher. At least that is what I firmly believe.

Now if I believe it is important to tell you if you are not “measuring up”, what techniques should I use? Maybe I should ask what a coach would do since I consider myself a coach more than a teacher. Any of the student athletes want to tell me what the coach would have done to a person like ZZZ? Here are some possibilities:

The coach would have, quite likely, publicly identified ZZZ by name (I have not said that ZZZ is a single real person). Then ZZZ would have run laps until totally exhausted or the coach would have benched ZZZ for violating team rules or or even dismissed ZZZ from the team and have held a press conference to notify the adoring public that beloved ZZZ would no longer be playing for the mighty Jaguars. Oh yes, what is the penalty for lying to a coach? Or lying on an examination? Or lying to your principal? Just guess!

I had a lot of ZZZs for whom I had a message. So I delivered that message. No names were revealed (although many of you told me, or emailed me, that you thought you were ZZZ). It is probably still unclear to most of you (maybe all of you) whether ZZZ is a real person, a composite of many individuals, or a fictional character with characteristics that I want to identify as unbecoming to a teaching candidate. I was especially concerned because I felt, before the semester started, that there would be lot of students (25% was my guess) who would not have the skills or experiences to manage their time and do the work required in the new EDM310. I was correct. Actually, it was about 35% of students at midterm that fit this bill.

My hope was that students would assess themselves, learn and apply appropriate organizational and time management skills, and successfully complete the course. That happened for some students. But others took up the cry that the time demands of EDM310 were too great and that they should not be required to work so hard on EDM310 because of all the other things going on in their lives. If I remember correctly (check the first movie for the course) I stressed three things:
You could expect to work a total of 9 hours per week in EDM310
You must manage your time effectively
You could not afford to get behind in EDM310

And here we are, at the end of the semester. Some ZZZs dropped the course, some are still enrolled but have submitted no work in a long time, some are madly dashing to “catch up” if that is really a possibility.

But the majority of students have done quite well, thank you. They have demonstrated the knowledge, skills and aptitudes necessary for an excellent teaching professional. In fact, several students have performed as well as any students I have ever had. Ever! And a huge bunch have demonstrated that we do have excellent teachers in the pipeline, even in Alabama! I am proud of you! And if my grandchildren lived nearby (the ones not already in college), I would be delighted if you were their teacher!