Upkeep

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”—Matthew 7:7

Syllabus

Please peruse the syllabus.

Grading

Grades in my class fall in two categories: assignments (40%) and assessments (60%).  Suppose you completed 50% of your assignments. Your quarter grade would be (50 * .4) + (your average assessment grade * .6). Completing the other half of your assignments would raise your quarter grade by 20 points.

Assignments (40%)

Assignments can be found in the week’s post under your class’s tab. Those who focus during the 90 minutes of class should be able to complete all assignments during school. For any who need extra time or tablet access, I tutor for one hour every day after school and during every Saturday school. Every assignment can also be accessed and completed via your cellphone. Assignments may be turned in or redone for full credit until the end of the quarter.

Assessments (60%)

Assessments include weekly quizzes and discussions. They cannot be redone. These tend to test lower level recall skills (DoK 1 & 2), so students who keep on top of the material should have no problem passing with high marks.

Tutoring

I tutor everyday after school in my room until at least 4:15 pm, usually until 5 or 6 pm. I will also be at every Saturday school. Feel free to drop by for extra help or just a quiet place to work.

Communication

To join your class’s Remind group, text your class code to 81010 or send a blank email to [class_code]@mail.remind.com. For your class code, please see me.

You may also email me at schiffresg@jenningsk12.us or message me through the contact form on my welcome page.

Organization

I encourage you to write down your assignments at the beginning of each week, either in a planner, your notebook, a note on your phone, or an organizational app such as Todoist (available for iPhone and Android).

Notetaking

Notetaking is essential for success in high school, college, and life. The lecture format, which I switch in and out of, only works when students engage via notes. Here are tips from Dartmouth and Seton Hill University for effective notetaking. Here’s a friend of a friend, Molly Worthen, defending the value of lectures & notetaking in the New York Times Sunday Review:

Absorbing a long, complex argument is hard work, requiring students to synthesize, organize and react as they listen. In our time, when any reading assignment longer than a Facebook post seems ponderous, students have little experience doing this. Some research suggests that minority and low-income students struggle even more. But if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice. Moreover,we capitulate to the worst features of the customer-service mentality that has seeped into the university from the business world. The solution,instead, is to teach those students how to gain all a great lecture course has to give them.

When Kjirsten Severson first began teaching philosophy at Clackamas Community College in Oregon, she realized that she needed to teach her students how to listen. “Where I needed to start was by teaching them howto create space in their inner world, so they could take on this argument ona clean canvas,” she told me. She assigns an excerpt from Rebecca Shafir’s“The Zen of Listening” to help students learn to clear their minds and focus.This ability to concentrate is not just a study skill. As Dr. Cummins put it,“Can they listen to a political candidate with an analytical ear? Can they go and listen to their minister with an analytical ear? Can they listen to one another? One of the things a lecture does is build that habit.”

Listening continuously and taking notes for an hour is an unusual cognitive experience for most young people. Professors should embrace — and even advertise — lecture courses as an exercise in mindfulness and attention building, a mental workout that counteracts the junk food of nonstop social media. More and more of my colleagues are banning the use of laptops in their classrooms. They say that despite initial grumbling, students usually praise the policy by the end of the semester. “I think the students value a break from their multitasking lives,” Andrew Delbanco, a professor of American Studies at Columbia University and an award-winning teacher,told me. “The classroom is an unusual space for them to be in: Here’s a person talking about complicated ideas and challenging books and trying not to dumb them down, not playing for laughs, requiring 60 minutes of focused attention.” …

“Note-taking should be just as eloquent as speaking,” said Medora Ahern, arecent graduate of New Saint Andrews College in Idaho. I tracked her down after a visit there persuaded me that this tiny Christian college has preserved some of the best features of a traditional liberal arts education. She told me how learning to take attentive, analytical notes helped her succeed in debates with her classmates. “Debate is really all about note-taking,dissecting your opponent’s idea, reducing it into a single sentence. There’s something about the brevity of notes, putting an idea into a smaller space,that allows you psychologically to overcome that idea.”

Technology can be a saboteur. Studies suggest that taking notes by hand helps students master material better than typing notes on a laptop,probably because most find it impossible to take verbatim notes with pen and paper. Verbatim transcription is never the goal: Students should synthesize as they listen.

This is not a “passive” learning experience, and it cannot be replicated by asking students to watch videotaped lectures online: the temptations of the Internet, the safeguard of the rewind button and the comforts of the dorm-room sofa are deadly to the attention span. But note-taking is not a skill professors can take for granted. We must teach it. Dr. Cummins assigns one student in each day’s class the task of not only taking notes, but also presenting a critique of her argument at the next class meeting.

This kind of work prepares students to succeed in the class format that so many educators, parents and students fetishize: the small seminar discussion. A lecture course teaches students that listening is not the same thing as thinking about what you plan to say next — and that critical thinking depends on mastery of facts, not knee-jerk opinions. “We don’t want to pretend that all we have to do is prod the student and the truth will come out,” Dr. Delbanco told me.

Exams

Curving

College classes tend to grade exams on a curve, and occasionally I may do the same. Curves adjust your grade relative to those of your peers. It means students are not penalized for poor teaching or unfair tests. No matter students’ raw scores, the top X% of students would receive an A, the next Y% a B, and so on.

The formula for my curve, copied below, was designed around three parameters:

  1. Nobody’s score will decrease.
  2. Curved scores will average a 75%: the mean of a normal distribution from F (50%) to A (100%).
  3. The lowest scorer will be bumped to a 50% curved score. That way, nobody will fail my class solely from tests.

Simpler than it appears.

One byproduct of the curve is that lower scorers tend to benefit more than higher scorers. Here are the variables, if you want to explore for yourself:

  • x = raw score (i.e. number of correct answers / total number of questions)
  • x0 = the average of class’s raw scores
    • I share this variable in the “Reflections” post after each test.
  • y0 = curved class average; for my class, this variable equals 75
  • (y1 – y0 / x1 – x0) = coefficient required to move the lowest score to a 50 (henceforth “curve coefficient”)
    • I share this variable in the “Reflections” post after each test.
  • f(x) = curved grade
Standard Deviation

On the “Reflections” post, I will also share the class’s standard deviation. This expresses the variance of test scores: Was there a range of raw scores, or were they clumped? If scores are clumped at the high end (lots of As), then the test was to easy. If scores are clumped at the low end (lots of Fs), then the test was too hard. If there is a range (i.e. a large standard deviation), then students could succeed (not all Fs), but they had to work hard (not all As).

Raw scores in and of themselves don’t mean much because teachers can vary rigor to achieve desired results. I aim for a large standard deviation, then I curve for equity.

Check Your Progress

  • To check your grade, both for the quarter and each assignment, go to SIS.
  • To check your Smart Points for each IXL skill, go to Analytics > Progress.
  • To check your mastery of each list on vocabulary.com, go to My Progress.

Accelerate Your Learning

Seek out systems for active, continuous learning. I’d recommend emails from Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day and Daily Bit of News (a news aggregator that summarizes each day’s top stories). I’m subscribed to these and half a dozen others—you’re never too old to learn!

You can also study unassigned resources on my Materials page, such as unassigned vocabulary, essays, etc.