Teaching philosophy

The Case for Being a Nitpicky Grader

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I’ve always had a sense of the educator I didn’t want to be. To this day I remember the prof who became annoyed with endless questions and finally huffed, “My five-year-old could get this!” Student me, though stumped, decided to try work it out on my own. If I couldn’t get it, it was a relatively small thing on which to take a hit when it came time for exams.

These days when I come across a topic that seems ridiculously simple, but students aren’t getting it, I try to get their input on what the topic looks like to someone new to the subject. I use that input to come up with a more effective strategy to tackle it. I’m not that prof.

I used to not be the nitpicky-grader prof either. You know the one- they took points off for the tiniest infraction, and you could never get it exactly right. I’ve had a change of heart on that one, though.

When a student made a small error on an assignment, I used to point out the error and explain the problem, but not take off points. It’s a minor error, right? They’ll do better next time. But regardless of how carefully I explained, the same errors would show up in the student’s work over and over again. Then I started taking off a half point for those kinds of errors. Guess what? Suddenly students decided those small details mattered.

I was somewhat taken aback that the only way to convince them to do it right was making it costly to do it wrong. Suddenly the student who was a chronic non-labeller of graph axes is producing clear labels with proper units. The student not bothering to spell technical terms correctly (I mean, c’mon you have spellcheck for your homework for dog’s sake!) suddenly learns the spelling. Importantly, those errors also disappear from exams.

The distinction between formative and summative assessment is that formative assessment is meant to be low stakes/ no stakes, and help students analyze their work to improve. Summative assessment is the higher stakes measurement of whether they’ve met course objectives or not. Formative assessment involves helpful hints, and summative assessment involves correct or incorrect.

But as it turns out, unless there is something at stake to distinguish “important” from “whatever,” formative assessment is “I’ll take it under advisement” assessment, and summative assessment is “it seems you neglected to do so when the stakes were much higher” assessment.

I wasn’t doing any favours by letting things slide in the hope students got the message, so now I’m that prof.

Categories: Assessment, Challenges, Teaching philosophy | 2 Comments

INTJ Teacher: An Alternative Approach to the Teaching Philosophy Statement

Some weeks ago I attended a workshop on designing a reflective teaching portfolio offered by the GMCTE at the U of S, and facilitated by two of their excellent instructors, Kim West and Wenona Partridge. The workshop was about making a written record of one’s ideas about teaching, of the methods for accomplishing teaching goals, and of evidence of how that was going. The starting point was a statement of teaching philosophy, which is exactly what it sounds like- a written description of how one views teaching, and how those views inform one’s approach to teaching. (You can find some examples here.)

Kim and Wenona had us do a number of activities to help us articulate a teaching philosophy. I found those activities useful, but what really helped me was something that appeared in their slides, but which we didn’t really discuss in the workshop: the Myers-Briggs survey. Myers-Briggs is a set of questions used to classify people into one of 16 personality types described by four letters: I or E for introvert or extrovert; S or N for sensing or intuition; T or F for thinking or feeling, and J or P for judging or perceiving. The figure below is a nice summary.

 

Chart of Myers-Briggs personality types

Chart of Myers-Briggs personality types. (Source: Jake Beech, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

I don’t know what motivated me to do the test, and from the figure, it doesn’t seem like the classifications should lead to any earth-shattering revelations. But I did do the test (I used the one at 16 Personalities, because it seemed to have the best interface and descriptions of personality types), and the outcome was something I would never have imagined: relief! It felt like a huge burden was lifted!

I learned that many of the things I though were dysfunctional about me, and which I’ve worked hard to overcome so that I could interact with “normal” people are actually themselves normal characteristics (albeit for a very small segment of the population). They are so normal, in fact, that they comprise a stereotype in an online quiz.

On the one hand, nothing has changed. And why should it? It’s an online personality survey, for goodness sake! But on the other hand everything has changed because my perspective is different. I suddenly feel like I’m allowed to be myself, which I would describe as someone with mildly misanthropic tendencies. The kinds of things that frustrate me are quite predictable, if you’re going by the type. This is consistent with the fact that very few people seem to feel as cranky as I do about a number of things which I find blatantly objectionable (some of which I’ve discussed at Petragogy).

Whether you believe that Myers-Briggs is a meaningful or not as a way to determine someone’s personality is one thing, and maybe you’ve done the test and found it to be completely off base. But if you’re looking for scientific rigour, you’re missing the point. When I did the test, some things didn’t seem to match me either. There’s no way I’m disrespectful of authority! I never get in trouble! I just expect that authority figures should be competent, and authority in and of itself is not a thing to respect intrinsically… Oh. Never mind.

See, it’s about having a starting point for questioning your assumptions about yourself.

After a sense of relief, the next thing that occurred to me is that INTJ-ish types would, on the surface, not seem to be particularly suited to teaching roles. The phrases “does not play well with others,” and “does not suffer fools kindly” come to mind. But teaching is something I feel very strongly about, and something I put a lot of effort into getting right.

So naturally, I made a comic. It’s a remarkably efficient way to communicate that I will get things done, and I will do them right. Someone might not like how I do things, but there are solid reasons behind my choices, and I can promise you that I’ve thought it out thoroughly from every angle possible, and you would get bored long before I’m done enumerating the reasons. I will still make you listen, however, because you should have all the facts.

It’s difficult to articulate the implications of that in a few paragraphs in a teaching philosophy statement. One would think a cartoon would be limiting as a means of communication, but somehow it’s just the opposite. I can get more across with a few lines of text and some pictures than I could in several pages of writing.

I’m calling my comic INTJ Teacher (as far as I can tell no-one on the internet has claimed that yet), and using the tag line, “For those who are, and those who should know what they’re dealing with,” because that pretty much sums it up. My first installment (below) is an introduction, and I will post subsequent installments from time to time. With the small number of INTJ-identifying folks out there, and the fraction of those who are educators, I’m not expecting a huge interest. That’s fine, though. I just like the idea of being able to point someone to a url and say, “You’ve been warned.”

INTJ Teacher webcomic

Introducing the INTJ teacher

Update for 6 September 2018: I’m moving my comic from a separate blog to this one because I have too many  tentacles in online space. I’ll file posts under the category INTJ Teacher.

Categories: INTJ Teacher, Teaching philosophy | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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