A tale of two colleges April 2, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
Tags: college, education, gifted education, higher education, older son
I quickly came to the realization, after coming up with a list of potential colleges for the older boy, that we should try to visit some campuses now. I teach in the fall and taking time off during the week would only be possible around Thanksgiving, so this would be our last chance before applications are due. We hurriedly put together an itinerary and are doing part 1 of the college tour. (Part 2 will be in another, more distant state and will therefore have to occur during the summer sometime.)
The first college we visited was close to the top of the list. It’s a nice state school in a great town, and the older boy was very psyched about the visit. Everything sounded great on the tour, and the overview presentation only reaffirmed that it would be great. Then, however, we talked to an admissions counselor. We explained that older son has his GED, has done or will soon finish all the necessary testing, and that most of his curriculum was courses that he CLEPed.
The counselor informed us that we needed to do the whole transcript thing and affirm that he had taken four years of English, math, etc. I took a deep breath and then asked, “But, does he really have to have four years of English classes, for example, when he’s already demonstrated he can do college-level work in the area?”
“Yes, the tests show he has some knowledge, but we need to see that he’s done the work.”
My first reaction was to wonder who in the world could really pass these tests without doing the work, in some form or another. Second, I wondered why bother saying you accept a GED if this is what is required. Third, I got angry. Is education really about parking your butt in a seat for four years and not so much about learning anything? Is that what will be expected of him at this college?
The worst reaction was when I looked at the older son and saw his face fall. ”Oh no,” I thought. ”I’ve totally screwed this kid over. How will he get into college? Did I just mess up his life because of insistence that he become prisoner to my educational values while ignoring pragmatism?” Of course, that’s utterly ridiculous. When you’re dealing with a kid who is gifted and learning disabled, the best way to ruin his or her life is to leave them in a situation where they are obviously miserable and non-functioning, which then destroys their self-confidence and motivation. No, I got him into a situation where he was learning and was able to demonstrate that using objective criteria.
Still, after that meeting, the older boy and I were both awfully bummed. After hearing a similar but slightly less uptight message at another school, I started wondering if maybe we needed to worry less about other criteria and find some places that were more friendly to homeschoolers. I’ve realized that we really need to talk to admissions counselors at each of these schools and see if there’s even any point in him applying if they’re going to be extremely skeptical of his accomplishments.
Today, we may have hit the jackpot, however. After getting an overview of this school’s very flexible and creative approach to education, we talked with someone about the older boy’s background and what we’d been doing for schooling. Rather than the reaction we had been getting, they said it sounded like he was rather accomplished. They were fine with his GED, saying that gave them a very good normative comparison, and were impressed with his accomplishments thus far with his CLEPs. That college is, as of right now, at the top of older son’s list. He’s really happy to have found a place that doesn’t view getting a degree as simply a matter of checking off items on a list of requirements.
All of this made me curious. I never knew why he had issues in high school, but it was obvious that once he took his GED and started studying for his CLEPs that he was suddenly excited about learning. I decided to ask him. His response was that he hated how you had to do everything together in high school. The stuff that was easy, they would drag out forever. When they got to stuff that he wanted to look at more carefully or had trouble understanding, he said they’d rush through it.
“College is a lot different, though,” he said. ”You’re expected to do a lot of work on your own, so I’ll be able to spend a lot more time when I feel like I need to and, if the class is going slow, I can spend my study time working ahead.”
Apparently something sunk in as he knows he can take responsibility for his own learning. That, in my mind, is very much the point. Education shouldn’t be just a process that happens to you.
A class of his own March 16, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son.
Tags: college, older son
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We’ve started making a list of potential colleges for the older son. It was fairly easy to do because he had some set criteria: location, size of school, religious affiliation, etc. Based on this, we narrowed it down to 17 choices…initially. Since then, he crossed off one, added two others, and is unsure about another because, even though it’s big, he still wants to check it out. We’re waiting for viewbooks to come in the mail. Once he’s narrowed down the list a bit further, we’ll do some campus visits to a few in April.
In the college guide we used, there was a statistic stating, for each school, how many people attending are from the top 10% of their high school class. At first, I just sort of took it as a measure of selectivity of school. However, we started discussing this.
I came from a high school class of around 200, so the metric has some meaning there. However, Mike’s high school class had twelve people. That means that he and 1/5 of another person (approximately) constituted the top 10% of his high school class.
And then there’s the older son: he’s the whole class as he’s homeschooled. He’s therefore in the top and bottom 10%.
Coming from that perspective, this metric is about as useful as grades. I have no idea how I plan to do some sort of transcript and am considering just telling him to report his GED scores. I could give him grades for the classes he’s done based on his CLEP exams. Honestly, though, that would be unfair to him. He completed a year of college-level US history as a freshman in high school, but he got an average score on the exam. Do I give him a C? Doesn’t it matter that he was doing work typically reserved for someone four years older than him? It’s so subjective.
Another issue I have is that colleges typically request you have so many years of different types of classes. I’ll admit that while I was pretty structured with his math, I’ve found that the easiest way for him to learn everything else was just to let him follow his natural reading instinct, although I would occasionally hand him a book and say, “Read this.” It doesn’t seem relevant, to me at least, whether he spent four years chugging through textbooks if he can easily pass a college-level course in the same area.
As you can tell, he’s going to have a lot of fun filling out college applications. I hope he’s in a very creative mood when he starts.
Tags: education, gifted, gifted education, homeschooling, research
A very long time ago, I was asked to teach a workshop for the Homeschool Association of California annual conference. It had to do with computers, though I don’t remember what. What I do remember, however, was expecting that I’d be dealing with a bunch of antisocial technophobes.
I couldn’t have been more off the mark than I was. I only had a handful of kids, but they were definitely not technophobes. Admittedly this is probably a self-selecting group because, after all, no one was forcing them to go to the workshop. But what surprised me even more was that they were very sociable. Unlike other high school kids I’d worked with, they didn’t seem intimidated by me or afraid to ask questions. I remember coming out of that workshop and feeling like I’d been slapped upside the head.
The thing I realized from that is my assumption that children schooled at home were anti-social was due strictly to my lack of imagination. I had assumed that if you didn’t spend all day in a room with other kids that you wouldn’t learn to interact at all. It’s not that I’d ever met many homeschoolers. In fact, it was probably my lack of exposure to the culture that made me construct my own version of how they must behave.
Interestingly enough, I find that it’s the one thing that most non-homeschoolers key on: in order to be ‘properly’ socialized, you have to go to school. After spending time around homeschoolers, and recounting my own school experience, I have always been extremely skeptical of that argument. It didn’t help when my older son spent a year going to middle school full time only to come out of it incredibly angry because of the horrid bullying, by students and teachers alike, that he’d encountered.
It’s interesting to me that this question also brought up in response to doing anything different for gifted children in normal schools. That is, there is the argument that grouping children by ability or accelerating their academic curriculum means that kids won’t learn to appreciate diversity and get along with other people. Most people assume that putting gifted kids in different groups or classrooms is bad for everyone.
I hate assumptions, though. I have, over time, come across studies here and there saying that, in general, these assumptions were wrong. I can only think of one study that said ability grouping had negative consequences, and one study on homeschooling that showed a neutral outcome on homeschooling. The topic came up in a discussion with someone, and I thought it was high time for me to make sure I wasn’t blowing smoke.
Unfortunately, the research on both groups is relatively sparse. I suppose it’s not a compelling interest for the majority of the population, so not a lot of resources are put toward it. I am kind of a fan of summary papers, mostly because they save a lot of time by summarizing the results from several different studies while noting the drawbacks of each. In that vein, I managed to come across one for each group, although both are rather ‘old’ by my standards. The paper on gifted socialization was from 1993, while the one on homeschooling was from 2000. (Social science progresses far too slowly for my tastes.)
For the gifted group, Karen Rogers wrote a synopsis of a paper which talks about several different forms of grouping and acceleration. The paper looks at 13 different studies on gifted accelerations methods. She found that academically, almost all methods had positive effects. If you look the psychological and social effects, the were probably neutral. Some forms of acceleration resulted in positive outcomes, some in negative. Her conclusion was:
What seems evident about the spotty research on socialization and psychological effects when grouping by ability is that no pattern of improvement or decline can be established. It is likely that there are many personal, environmental, family, and other extraneous variables that affect self-esteem and socialization more directly than the practice of grouping itself.
The studies that discussed homeschooling were covered in a paper by Medlin. Surprisingly, there were a lot more studies covered in this paper than on gifted education. Medlin broke down the studies into three groups, each addressing a different question. First, do homeschool children participate in the daily activities in the communities? The results indicated that they encountered just as many people as public schooled children, often of a more diverse background, and were more active in extra-curriculars than their public school counterparts. The second question was whether homeschooled children acquired the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they needed. (I keep feeling like there’s a comma missing in that…) While detractors may be pretty upset at this, the conclusion was that, in most cases, homeschool children actually fared better in these studies. Admittedly, though, the studies were hardly taking large numbers of students into consideration. There was speculation on this set of results:
Smedley speculated that the family “more accurately mirrors the outside society” than does the traditional school environment, with its “unnatural” age segregation.
This particular view stands out because it’s a view I see reflected a lot in analysis of gifted education, too: age grouping is unnatural and ability grouping is more likely to occur in real life.
Finally, Medlin asks whether homeschooled students end up doing okay as adults. There are very few studies in this section, but the conclusion from those studies was that they not only do fine, but tend to take on a lot of leadership roles. (I do know there was a study commissioned by the HSLDA a few years ago that came to similar conclusions, but I find a bit of conflict of interest in that one given who paid for it.)
If there’s anything people should be taking out of these studies, it’s that our adherence to age-based grouping of random kids really doesn’t provide the beneficial socialization we think it does and may, in fact, have some pretty negative impacts. In fact, I recently came across and article called, “Why you truly never leave high school,” that talks about those negative effects and how they may actually be carried with us into our adult lives. (Yes, I do realize some of the conclusions make the title a stretch, but it’s food for thought.) Given the presence of issues like bullying that have gotten more air play over the past few years, I’m very surprised people haven’t realized that it could, in fact, be detrimental.
It’s here! It’s really here! March 4, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, older son, personal.
Tags: college, older son
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The older son recently celebrated another orbital trip around the sun, and it made me realize that it’s pretty much time to get serious about this college thing. Part of it was the realization that I teach in the fall (which came up because of other reasons), so if the older boy plans to make any college visits, it’d be ideal if they were in the next couple months. The fall will be difficult, at best.
Of course, we’re also sitting here wondering if maybe just staying local for a couple years would be fine. He could start here (or even keep on taking exams for placement), live at home, and transfer out should he so decide. However, I want him to evaluate all of his choices carefully. He’s starting to look at potential majors for college, we’re going through the mess of signing him up for standardized tests, and probably most importantly, Mike is panicking about the potential bills showing up in the mail which also has the older boy starting to think about scholarships.
You know, I thought looking for colleges was stressful when I was in high school. I don’t think it’s really any easier as a parent. In fact, in some ways, it’s worse (although in other ways, it’s certainly better). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I am glad that I read Crazy U a couple years ago, though. I think it made me realize that getting really worked up about the whole process is probably counterproductive.
Annual review February 28, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: comments, evaluations, teaching
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I suppose getting evals once a year (since I’m currently teaching only in the fall) is sort of like having an annual review.
I have to say that I’m rather pleased with this year’s review. Of my four sections, I did have one ‘dud’, where the scores were noticeably lower than others. However, in all classes, I generally was at or above the average. Given I have now earned a reputation for teaching the hardest sections of the course, I think I’m a bit proud of that.
I had all of four comments:
She was very helpful when working on our schedules.
Does a very good job teaching everything.
The most interesting comment was this:
You assumed too much w/the final MATLAB assignment. People who have never programmed would never understand for loops and “if” statements.
I am amused that this person was so concerned about their peers that they felt the need to tell me I was expecting too much. Or maybe they were mad because they themselves didn’t understand and didn’t want to admit it.
I find it interesting because the whole point of the unit was to learn some basic programming…and I consider loops to be fairly fundamental. I also explained them in class. Even more important is that this student may not have clued in yet to the fact that one is supposed to learn new things in college, not just stuff that one knew before. That being said, the vast majority of the students were able to finish the assignment and did just fine.
I’ll just take it that I’ve officially reached “too high in the ivory tower” status.
More teachers like me December 21, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
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I got an email from the department secretary that an office on campus needed some information about a student. After digging up the info, I sent it to the correct office and then let the secretary know that it had been taken care of. She emailed back to thank me, saying also that she wishes there were more teachers like me. I thought that was a very nice comment.
More seriously, given my many years of experience as a student, I sort of wish there had been, too.
When persistence isn’t a good thing… December 19, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, teaching.
Tags: cheating, grades, teaching
I unfortunately have to turn in some forms describing how I caught some students cheating.
This is frustrating because every semester since I started teaching, I have managed to catch at least one cheater. I keep hoping that I’ll get through a semester without dealing with this issue, but I suspect that the reason I might not catch any cheaters is because they’re getting better at it or I’ve overlooked something. It would be nice, however, if it meant that they’d actually stopped.
I’m very confused why students would cheat in my class. I have a very open policy where I encourage them to talk with each other. I basically tell them I think they’ll learn a lot from each other. My big no-no is doing the copy/paste routine and then submitting it as one’s own work. I am very explicit about this. It seems ridiculous that someone would do this given they can talk to each other and look over each other’s shoulders. Apparently it’s too much temptation, however, and some students can’t seem to stop themselves from taking a final step over the boundary into unethical land.
Always mistaken for a student December 7, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, work.
Tags: computers, license, software, students
A week or two ago, I commented that I get mistaken for a student a lot. There’s another way this happens, and it has nothing to do with my appearance. It has to do with the fact that my work email ends with .edu.
I work for a university, hence the appendage on my email. Many vendors, but particularly those who sell software, give educational discounts on their software. The problem is that I work in a center that does a lot of work with commercial interests, thus requiring we have commercial licenses on our software and any other equipment we need to buy.
This is not a big deal except when it comes to getting support or information from the vendors. That little appendage on my email means certain doom. The assumption is that, because I am at a university, I must be a student and don’t have the right to get support from the vendor. There are also those vendors who won’t call back to give prices, likely for a similar reason: I’m probably a student who doesn’t have any money to spend.
While I really like where I work, this is one of the more frustrating aspects of the job. I would like to say it’s a fluke, but it happens to my colleagues and myself on such a regular basis that I know it’s not someone just having a bad day. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for an actual student.
compulsory mis-education December 3, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching.
Tags: attendance, classes, teaching
One of the first things I learned in college is that it’s never a good idea to skip class. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do it, but I did so with the realization that I would likely be paying for it later. This made me try to minimize it as much as possible, and generally I tried to make it unless I was sick or there was some other problem. (And with kids, there is always some other problem.)
I was a therefore a bit irritated when I received two emails from a student asking if he needed to attend class anymore. His reasoning is that there are no more assignments due, so there is no longer a compelling reason to attend. I responded by saying that, unless there is an emergency, it is assumed that the students will be in class.
I didn’t say, “Yes, you have to be there.” Realistically, I have no way of enforcing this. However, I wasn’t about to let him off the hook. The last day of classes are actually reasonably important. We have evaluations (now is your chance to complain!). I’m also having a student who has gone through the program give a presentation. The idea is that they can ask him questions and find out what may be important as they go down the road.
Aside from that, I don’t know how to get across to him that attending class is important. At least, it was in my experience. However, I’m wondering if maybe this is just a self-centered point of view. Maybe there are other things that the student needs to do that will impact their long-term outcome much more than missing my class. I also don’t want to be the cranky old woman, shaking her cane and yelling at those darn kids. Should I just trust that they’re better at prioritizing their own schedules? I’m not sure…
Maybe there would be better incentive if I provided free food.
A clause for pause November 9, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, societal commentary, teaching.
Tags: behavior, grades, rules, students, syllabus
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I got into a discussion with a colleague where I mentioned that, when necessary, a student’s behavior will be a consideration when it comes time to assign final grades. This colleague said I couldn’t do that because the grade should be based solely on their coursework.
What this colleague doesn’t understand is that almost every semester, I have had one or two students who felt that they were ‘in charge’ and could tell me what I could and could not do in the class. The most egregious examples were students showing up drunk, who felt like they could start yelling at me, or felt like they were entitled to argue with me endlessly once I had made a decision on something. Every. Semester.
A couple years ago, I began adding a ‘behavioral expectations’ to my syllabus, stating that students needed to treat other students and the instructor respectfully. I also outlined behaviors that students frequently have questions about. (No, I don’t mind if you eat or drink during class. You don’t need to ask me to go to the bathroom. If you come in late, don’t disrupt the class, etc.) I needed students to realize there were basic expectations, and more importantly, that I am not a pushover.
This isn’t me attempting to micromanage their behavior. The idea was to get across that I could tell them they were done with my class if they started being very oppositional, disruptive, or even threatening. I got very tired of students who felt it was acceptable to badger me until they got the grade they wanted. All of these scenarios have occurred at one time or another, and I, for a long time, felt powerless to do anything about it.
What I find questionable is giving a student an A, which many people take as a stamp of approval, when the student fought tooth and nail to avoid meeting the minimum qualifications of getting that grade or has created a difficult learning environment for those around them. I’m not a conformist, but I do believe in showing people basic respect. If they cannot do that, then they have not met my requirements to receive a grade that essentially says I strongly approve of how they have performed in my class.