Wednesday, May 5, 2010


My 9th grade students just finished taking the 10th grade Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills1 (OAKS) test. There are a few students still finishing up, but these young scholars kicked the test's posterior clear to the moon. On average, students increased their score by 3 points, but what is really impressive is that 13 of these 54 students passed the 10th grade test and now have one less hurdle to jump before they can graduate high school. I am so proud of them and their hard work.

But tonight I'm wondering how much of a role enthusiasm/motivation/confidence played a part. Is there a sort of placebo effect that helped out my students?

I have this thing that I do before I take students to the computer lab to take the test each day. I don't think it's something I do that affects their performance, necessarily, though the intent is to get them pumped up. But it is definitely a gauge for their level of this-class/test-is-such-a-joke-and-I-don't-care-what-I-get-on-it factor.
"I say 'fired up,' you say 'ready to go!' FIRED UP?"
So we yell that, disrupt the classes on either side of us as much as possible (sorry, Dusty), and then we go kill some tests. With a vengeance. Just like John McClain.

But I have three periods. And second period doesn't get so fired up. They don't seem so ready to go. I yell; they mumble. I yell louder; they tell me how "gay" this is. I ask them if they really used "gay" as synonymous with stupid; they say "sorry, sorry, we mean 'dumb.'" Fantastic.

But second period has the lowest average test score for all three periods. Only three students passed in that class, while first period, which most definitely gets fired up and ready to go, boasts eight students who passed the test and an average test score 5 points higher.

Both classes have their negative Nellys, but in first period they aren't negative about getting fired up. Second period has more students who just guessed and blew off the test, but that could be a result of failing to get fired up. I'm just trying to figure out why there's such a big difference when both classes received the same instruction. And if it's something as simple as confidence, how do I give it to all my students, who happen to be sarcastic teenagers (and just so we're clear, I teach them because of it, just so you read my intonation there correctly that it is a term of endearment).

1. As if a test can assess something as broad as knowledge . . . (back)
2. Yes, I did steal that from the 2008 Obama campaign. Not because Obama's awesome, just because it's a really great cheer. I am being completely politically neutral. (back)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Conversation With My Wife

Yesterday my partner Jennie and I were walking home from the thrift store.  We'd been looking for a pizza slicer.  We've been cutting pizza with a knife for almost two years now.  They didn't have one.  Or a cutting board or a rolling pin - we've been using old wine bottles.  But that's not the point of the story.

"So what do you still have to work on?" Jennie asked me.  We were trying to figure out when to go to Target to liberate (as in buy) our pizza slicer.

"Well, I need to decide if I'm going to record my students' writing this weekend or not," I said.  This solicited a slight internal groan from my partner.  We live in a 436 sq ft apartment, and I can either record a reading in the living room or the bedroom.  Both locations are audible at different levels throughout the apartment.  While my students are producing some great stuff this semester, there's only so many persuasive essays a spouse is willing to listen to in a weekend when she has her own work to complete for grad school.  Jennie is always completely supportive and totally tolerate of this process - she gave me the idea of responding to students writing this way after all - but I can imagine it would get old.  Still, I persisted.

"I can't decide if I should do it for their rough drafts or later on.  I want them to complete some meaningful revision, and I want them to do a peer revision, but they just tell each other that everything in their writing is great."

Jennie nodded sympathetically.  I continued.

"It's like I need to teach them to peer revise . . . oh."

Needless to say, I didn't record their writing this weekend.