Monthly Archives: June 2011

Reading reactions…

I’m posting a few different points on the blog that focus on events and readings of the past several days.  I”ll begin with a visual representation of some of the work I’ve been doing and then I’ll close with a few comments on some readings.  I posted this type of message the other day, but I think it’s worth revisiting in order to give viewers a sense of the scale at which AP grading operates – remember, there’s about 1.25 million essays to be read.  Again, here’s a very general sample of some results:


Each ‘l’ represents an essay scored on a scale that shall remain somewhat anonymous at this point.  The process and pace quickens with each day, largely because you become ‘hyper-aware’ of what to look for in an essay response.  When I’m organized on my regular grading, I’ve felt a similar level of ‘oneness’ with assessing the material, but there’s something fascinating about working in a large space where everybody is in sync with one another.

a lot ranked – a lot more to go…

Reading a few books while I’m here as well, especially when I can’t sleep.  Some of them are intended for use in the classroom next spring, while others will be used this fall.  One is more of an ‘idea’ book to help me think about teaching and motivation in a different way.

I’ll start with the latter – Daniel Pink’s Drive – the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us because it’s the kind of book (and author) to which I’ve found myself drawn despite wondering the utility of the text.  Just as I found with A Whole New Mind, Drive is giving me some food for thought in the classroom and the general field of education.  Pink would characterize teaching as a largely heuristic profession – that is, the type of job in which employees must break from the ‘standard’ path to discover novel strategy (Pink, 43).  While some aspects of teaching might be more linear, most is going to require some creativity.  It’s in these heuristic situations that Pink would argue against reward as a motivator.  Indeed, Pink’s research points to experiments that indicate rewards narrow focus, impacting performance in a negative way and preventing creative solutions to problems.  Similarly, when goals are established for things such as sales targets or standardized tests, a dangerous side effect can result (Pink, 44, 50).  It’s the intrinsic nature of reward that should drive us – particularly in education – not the goal of ‘achieving’ on a standardized test or hitting the mark on a sales goal.  If you’re focused on these types of goals, Pink points out that unethical behavior may result.

Like my exposure to A Whole New Mind, Pink’s not necessarily breaking new ground here – rather, he’s pulling together the story in a cogent manner that can be useful to the reader.  I’m picking apart components of the text that are useful for me personally and in my teaching and it’s been a rewarding and straightforward process thus far.

The same can be said for my colleague Tona Hangen’s text Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America.  A quick review of the work can be found here.  I’ll say more on the text in another series of remarks, but an important point that should be raised is the clarity with which Hangen writes.  I’m considering using the book in a course on American popular culture and the introduction alone made me feel comfortable with the idea of assigning the text for undergraduates enrolled in electives courses.

It’s been a busy but rewarding few days – the grading occupies the bulk of daytime hours, while the other readings are accomplished in the evenings before dropping off to visit the land of Morpheus.


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I may not be Mike Fink…

…but I ran across the Ohio River today.   Ok…I had some help from a bridge!

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some 411 on the 502 trip


I thought I’d begin with a visual representation of work thus far in grading Advanced Placement US History exams. Each ‘l’ represents an exam graded and the curve demonstrates how the scores are spread out over (currently) eight separate ratings.

I first wondered about AP history exams when I took my own test.  How will this get graded, I thought?  And who is willing to sift through all of these essays?  Years after wondering, I was hired to read exams and traveled to Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas to begin the process of ’embracing’ the standards.  That year, just about 187,000 exams were scored by the roughly 875 graders – each exam contains three essay responses.  This year, just over a decade later, there are 410,000 exams, over 1200 readers, and a total of 1.25 million essays to read.

The numbers of people taking the exam is, in some ways, astonishing.  I’ve had mixed feelings about the exam for years, feelings that have increased since I began my own college  teaching career full time.

On the one hand, successful exam takers can earn college credit, thereby saving them money and perhaps time during college.  On the other hand, the exam does not necessarily reflect the typical college level survey experience – at least, it doesn’t reflect the surveys I teach.

That fact is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is the idea that successful students might learn some good history on the way towards saving money.  But, as the exam grows larger and larger, I have to always ask myself whether some students are not fully trained or prepared for the exam in front of them.

Both of my high school era AP history teachers had their strengths in terms of getting our class through the exam.  When I became a teacher on my own, I incorporated several ideas from those two teachers, along with a host of information I learned at the grading week.  Upon returning to my classroom, I believed I could give better instructions and strategies to all of my students, which could hopefully raise their scores.

As it turns out, the professional development I have experienced while at the reading has been tremendously helpful.  I learned a lot about grading in general, but I also learned about explaining standards and found that the more I took the time to explain my expectations to my students, lo!, the more willing the students were to go on an academic journey with me.

Today was a revisit to those earlier experiences and a reminder of good work that can emerge from a testing and grading learning opportunity.  On top of that accomplishment, I was able to take in some of the river area for Louisville.  A delightful walk revealed wharfs, riverboats, fountains, walking paths, ultimate frisbee games, a view of the Louisville Bats stadium, etc!

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Arriving in a space/place can be an interesting part of the journey.  At times arrivals are unexpected pleasures such as a surprise visit from a friend while at other times, arriving is as simple as showing up where you’d planned all along.

On the journey today, arriving meant something a bit different.  It meant embracing opportunity to arrive at a place somewhat unexpected:

Newark Earthworks

The prehistorica construction at Newark, OH

While driving along Interstate-70 this morning, it occurred to me that I had neglected to look up the location of the Hopewell mounds in Ohio.  It then occurred to me that perhaps we would pass near some of the constructions and be able to take a look.  When my friend used his GPS effectively to locate some nearby sites, we hopped off the big highway and in a short drive located some fascinating sites.

The Great Circle at Newark

Me, walking near the eastern 'gate' of the great circle

This largest grouping of geometric earthen shapes, apparently in the world, was constructed about 2000 years ago.  While its exact purpose is a mystery, there are some guesses as to the purpose of these structures.  Their size is impressive and cannot be understated.  I’m walking in the Great Circle, an area containing at least 30 acres and some 1200 feet in diameter.  The original circle included a low, earthen wall that surrounded the entire circle as well and connected the spot to other areas in the complex.  While what has been preserved is remarkable, much was destroyed by years of farming and the construction of a canal line, a portion of which is now Ohio state route 79.

The oddest portion of the complex is a slightly smaller circle attached to an octagon.  At our first stop, images indicated to us that we were in for a bit of a surprise regarding where the octagon was located.

First, I should point out, that all of these earth works are largely in neighborhoods which is remarkable in and of itself.  The octagon though, has a different story – if you’ve clicked on the previous link, you’ll understand that this has been saved, but in an odd manner.

The octagon and smaller circle were refurbished by the Ohio state militia in the 1890s and the space was used as an encampment.  After 1910, the octagon was leased by a country club and a golf course runs inside the circle and octagon.

As Tom and I said to each other – ‘only in America.’  On the one hand, the idea of a century of golf played in what appears to be a sacred space seems problematic to say the least.  On the other hand, the space has been preserved which, given the farming and other construction over the years, is remarkable.

The trip concluded in Louisville today without too many major events – there was some road construction, singing the WKRP theme song, a sighting of the professional sports team homes in Cincinnati, an excellent Chick-Fil-A sandwich, or two, and in conclusion, enjoyment of what should be Kentucky’s state drink.

All in all, I’d say we’ve arrived.

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