Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Leyland Smokes the Competition

My dear friend Dan Rohde is an elitist...when it comes to baseball entertainment. Just because he grew up in Milwaukee he thinks the Brewers are the pinnacle of Major League Baseball. This elitist attitude also includes MLB entertainment. Apparently, Dan's world came crashing down as he pondered the "fixing" of the sausage race. Read about it on his blog.

Well, Brat Wurst and his sausage brethren have been officially dethroned. The Toledo Mud Hens have unleashed the coup de gras of all mascots: Jim Leyland. Not only will this old geezer whoop up on the sausage trifecta, he'll roll them up after the race and smoke what's left of their sorry mascot selves.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Scorntron: Please, Start on the Blue Side.

Congrats to Aflu! After perusing all the entries the judges were captivated with his wit, intellect and willingness to post something on someone's blog. My personal subtitle was Scorntron: The Death of Critical Thinking.
Aflu, you can pick up your prize just as soon as you post your next entry.
Here are my thoughts...


Ugh! it pains me to call it by its rightful name. In my world, this engineered chunk of technological absurdity is affectionately known as Scorntron. Although, I don’t believe the device itself is evil, the ripple effect of its presence in the faculty lounge, however, is dangerous. With a quick whisk of a Scorntron sheet, this magical machine can instantly grade a multiple-choice test …and the tail wags the dog.

Because Scorntron offers quick feedback, quizzes and tests are designed to fit the parameters of the machine. The danger is that factual recall questions, the lowest on Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy, dominate. Yes, there must be a foundation of knowledge but if that’s all that’s being evaluated because Scorntron makes it easy, shame on us.

The perilous message we send our students is that factual recall is paramount because that’s what we evaluate - it’s what we expect our students to “learn”. If, at the end of a unit, our tests are saturated with factual recall questions, students walk away thinking, “Hmmmm, Mr. Brandt must think the number of Shakespeare’s siblings is vital. After all, it was on the test.”

A similar parallel exists with vocabulary study. I never want students to take a word they don’t know and memorize a definition they don’t understand. Oh, sure they could correctly answer Scorntron multiple choice question or a matching section, but do they understand the word? Could they use it or understand when it’s used because they opened up a dictionary to page 226, wrote down a definition and studied it the night before the test? The parallel is the same with Scorntron. Do we simply want students to regurgitate information without questioning it, without contrasting it, without analyzing it, without synthesizing it?

Imagine if drivers training used a similar approach:
Here’s the book.
Read all the facts.
Pass a Scorntron test.
Congratulations, here’s your license.
Please wait to drive home until I’ve left the parking lot.

Ugh! If we don’t challenge students to take that factual foundation and analyze, compare, contrast, predict or synthesize it, they walk away with spoon-fed information, not effective learning experiences.

Learning experiences need to be palpable and palatable. Students need to wrestle with the remnants of learning. That doesn’t happen if we only ask them to recall facts. Yes, it makes for a quick assessment that we can log into but it doesn’t create effective learning experiences?

Can the darker powers of Scorntron be used for good? Absolutely! Peruse sample questions form the AP Lit. and Comp test or the AP Language and Comp test. These questions are difficult and drift eastward on Bloom’s taxonomy. However, these questions are not easy to design. Educators must also use critical thinking skills and experiences in the classroom.. If a week’s worth of lesson plans focus on the “what” of the content and students never have to wrestle with the “why”, then slapping a bunch of higher order thinking questions, whether they are in multiple choice, short answer or essay format, on a test will not evaluate what has been taught. We need to make a conscious effort to use thinking tools throughout our lessons. Once this is accomplished, our summative assessments will accurately reflect what students have learned.

Check out the first page of this article in the February 1987 issue of English Journal that reveals similar thoughts.

Scorntron ......

Let' s play, Guess What You're Thinking. I'll provide the title for my next entry, you supply the subtitle that hints at the entry's focus. The first one should be easy.

Scorntron: (now you fill in the subtitle) _____________________________

I'll craft the column this evening and post it tomorrow.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Once More to the Lake

June 12, 2008

I just finished my professional obligations and now look toward summer vacation: riding, reading, and relaxing with a morning cup o' joe.
Ahhhhh. E.B. White wrote one of my favorite essays. If you've spent any time in upper Michigan, you have experienced White's essay. It's summer so relax, fill another cup with hazelnut, sit on the deck and read one of the best essays ever crafted.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wilken's Return

As a high school English teacher one of the advantages of summer is that I have time for some great reads. I've already stacked some books and I can hear their bindings softly murmuring. They want me to read their contents.

They need me to give them purpose.
I need them to give me satisfaction.

If you have some time on your hands, I recommend you read the first article in Todd Wilken's new journal. That's right, Reverend Todd Wilken is back and Issues, Etc. will soon return. Until then, whet your appetite with this insightful discussion on the need for doctrinal purity.
Before leaving this blog to peruse Wilken's points, read about the importance of doctrinal purity from God, Martin Luther and C.F.W. Walther:
God, as found in His inerrant Word in II Corinthians 13:8
"For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth."
Luther's commentary on this passage
II Corinthians 13:8This is so great a good that no human heart can grasp it (therefore it necessitates such a great and hard fight). It must not be treated lightly, as the world maintains and many people who do not understand, saying we should not fight so hard about an article and trample on Christian love; rather, although we err on one small point, if we agree on everything else, we should give in and overlook the difference in order to preserve brotherly and Christian unity and fellowship.No, my dear man, do no recommend to me peace and unity when thereby God’s Word is lost, for then eternal life and everything else would be lost. In this matter there can be no yielding nor giving way, no, not for love of you or any other person, but everything must yield to the Word whether it be friend or foe. The Word was given unto us for eternal life and not to further outward peace and unity. The Word and doctrine will create Christian unity or fellowship. Where thy reign all else will follow. where they are not no concord will ever abide. Therefore do not talk to me about love and friendship, if that means breaking with the Word, or the faith, for the gospel does not say love brings eternal life, God’s grace and all heavenly treasures, but the Word.-Martin Luther 1531: W.A. 34 II. 327

C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the LCMS:
Many say, 'Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with lead them to Christ.' But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing. As foolish as it would be to scold a farmer for being concerned about sowing good seed and to demand of him simply to be concerned about a good harvest, so foolish it is to scold those who are concerned first and foremost with the doctrine, and to demand of them that they should rather seek to rescue souls. For just as the farmer who wants a good crop must first of all be concerned about good seed, so the church must above all be concerned about right doctrine if it would save souls. -- C.F. W. Walther, "Our Common Task: the Saving of Souls" 1872

Now read Wilken's article and post your reaction.