Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Computer in My Head

We at "The Gods Are Bored" just completed a two-day, mind-numbing seminar on the latest, greatest computer program for data-driven instruction.

If you haven't heard of data-driven instruction, it's the latest, greatest tool for teachers everywhere. Just by looking at numbers grouped various ways, you can see exactly how your students are progressing as they learn something. This by-the-number approach has been created by two forces:

1. Standardized testing, and
2. Computer geeks

Go on, tell a computer geek to create a program that tracks student progress as the kids fill in little circles with number two pencils. Snap, crackle, pop! Eight ways, 15 ways, two dozen ways, to follow your students, group them, pinpoint specific tasks they can't do very well (i.e. subordinate clauses), and, of course, that all-important number: their Lexile score.

Lexile is basically reading-level, only geekier. I wish all my readers could take the standardized test for Lexile, so they would know how brilliant they are. Collectively we would max out that puppy and drive the data through the roof!

I've only been a teacher for a few years, but there are some things I've learned. I did not need to consult a computer to learn these things. Here goes:

1. If you have 110 students, by October you will know them all, their strengths and weaknesses, because you like them, they're people, and they reveal what they can and can't do, even if they don't want to.

2. Most standardized tests suck.

3. Someone is making a lot of money off the widely-held conviction that teachers can't tell which of their students need help without consulting a pie chart.

4. Most older teachers who grew up before the era of computers spend valuable time trying to run data through computers when they could just be reading student essays and making notes with a pencil, on some paper.

5. Not everyone is going to "get" everything, but this is the goal in today's educational environment. So, let me get this straight. Should Decibel's vet know how to fix my car? Should I know how to spay a cat?

Did you know that the geeks are trying to create a computer program that can grade essays? There are some programs already that can offer help with grammar, but nothing that can judge content. So this important grading falls to people. Well, we know this won't last, because you have to pay people to score essays, and a computer could do it cheaper.

Pardon me for not mincing words, but I hate it when a person is reduced to a numerical score. If Anne Johnson is having a bad day and decides that a computerized standardized test is the last thing she wants to do on earth, she will be deemed a moron by the data. It will be even worse if the cute guy next to her is flirting with her for the first time ever.

Sorry, geeks, but just now the computer in my head is better at tracking student progress than your fancy programs. On the day when that is no longer the case, the human race is doomed.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

There's absolutely no substitute for the human sensibilities that teachers bring to the task of learning.

Aquila ka Hecate said...

The computer in your head will *always* be better. Mary Shelly's demon notwithstanding.And I guess you could call me a geek, for want of a better word.
Terri in Joburg

Davoh said...

Heh.Um, reminds me of something. Way back in 1993. Was a videographer, at a University, Australia. One of my jobs was recording visiting lecturers. On this occasion three persons from the USA came to tell the students about the progress they'd made with computer 'voice recognition'.

There was a break fer cuppa tea n scones so wandered over t havva chat. Conversation went something like this.

"Gidday, how many words have ya got th computer t recognise"?
"OK, how long did it take"?
"Two years"
"And how much did it cost"?
"About 4 million (USD)"
"mmm", say i "interesting. If you gave me 4 million USD - could guarantee that i could teach 100 children to recognise a vocal vocabulary of at least ten thousand words in twelve months".

They didn't like me much.

Sarita Rucker said...

A computer grading my essays? That's a pretty horrifying thought.

I won't even comment on the rest.

Grundy said...

In your opinion, what is the best kind of test? Or the best way to evaluate students objectively?

Anne Johnson said...

Hi Grundy, I am in favor of giving students a variety of test options. I'm an English teacher, so I always have projects that show me what the students have read while simultaneously letting them use their particular skills -- everything from PowerPoint presentations to artwork, recordings, lots of stuff. Also, I do actually read all the essays and other writing they do. Lots of teachers don't bother.

Grundy said...

Since that relies on your subjective assessment of the projects, wouldn't we have a problem of fairness? Some teachers grading easier than others?

Claudia Dell said...

Love the article and the research.i want to see more informative post . Good luck with this.Essay Grading thanks.