Welcome the Sunset, 2012

50 Stunning Sunsets of 2012 by Weather.com Millie Alford Scottsdale
Click to see 50 Stunning Sunsets of 2012 from Weather.com
Thank you, Millie Alford, for this Scottsdale, AZ sunset.

Sunset is my favorite time of day—a reminder to pause, enjoy my Arizona sky (Where else would dust be spectacular!), connect with the source of it all, reflect on that day’s blessings (at least in gratitude for surviving that one), and seek guidance for the next phase of my journey. It’s like a mini New Year’s Eve. So today, I wish you a beautiful sunset on your 2012 and an even better dawn for your 2013.

_______________________

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

Screenshot from Weather.com, Millie Alford photo.

Grade Inflation: What’s Really Going On

A+ image from WritersResort blogI had the dubious honor of starting college during the first crackdown on grade inflation. My professors overtly ensured that every grade on our transcripts was hard-earned. Then I immediately started teaching college, where I was required to submit charts comparing my grades to the traditional bell curve, along with an explanation for any divergence. I did award more As or Bs than a bell curve would predict, and it wasn’t hard to explain. I was good at teaching people to write, so when essays were scored against rubrics instead of against other people’s essays, the curve skewed higher as the semester progressed, as I believe it should.

These days, rumors have it that 40% of students get As, and the debate about grade inflation flares again. Rumor has it that this time, we instructors are too wimpy to be honest with these consumer-students whose evaluations now determine whether we work or not.

But that isn’t my experience. What’s happening in my world is that the most common grade is the W. When students realize they aren’t getting that A–and this is especially easy with my institution’s generous midpoint withdrawal point–they drop.

Some students don’t do the work, realize where they are headed, then drop. Many take heavy loads, then drop the lowest grade. Many have illnesses, or car accidents, or family crises; while some emergency withdrawals seem necessary, in other cases, it’s clear that these students could complete the class (with an A even), but they fear what might happen–not that they won’t pass the class, but that they won’t get an A.

It’s midpoint for my students, so every day brings e-mails like these two, this morning’s samples:

“Sadly, I wish to be withdrawn from your class. I am taking a ton of classes right now and I can’t keep up with all the work this course requires and still get an A at the moment. The [college] office told me to send you an email asking for a withdrawal from the class. Thanks for everything!”

“Looks like I am going to have to withdrawal. It sucks but I cant take a chance that i will not get an ‘A’ in this class. I have talked to my lawyer and the responsible party with pay for this class, and I will re-sign up. I will attempt to try and get you as an instructor again. Thank you for all your help and constructive criticism.”

Even a non-A for a single assignment can trigger a drop. And the work required to focus a research question according to the course’s instructions, based on actual research, is too much for many students.

I have students announce early that they must have an A in my class. Students actually earning As don’t say that; they do the work and earn the grades. But the ones who get behind and/or don’t follow instructions announce that their As are non-negotiable, as though I have power to grant the prize despite any lack of effort or achievement.

When my own 7th grader got a C on his progress report (the result of missing assignments rather than aptitude) he declared that this didn’t matter because “C is average.” Them’s fighting words around here. I explained grade inflation and reminded him that even if Cs were still average, rocket scientists don’t have a reputation for being average students. (We used to say, “It isn’t brain surgery,” and now we say, “It isn’t rocket science.”) If Cs become the norm, his grades and his dreams won’t be accurately aligned for a successful Mars landing, or anything else he’s passionate about.

Today’s world requires collaboration and cooperation more than competition. Nothing would please me more than to have all my students earning As, because they worked that hard, and because I supported their learning that effectively. But human nature being operational, that is not happening.

It only appears to be happening, because for most students, it’s an A or nothing. Most students would rather pay for the class two or three times than get a B. This has me feeling increased respect for students who do stick it out for a B or a C. Those grades are often hard-won by students who are more gifted in other fields. I hope that in the future, along with students’ GPAs, we will report their course completion rates. Employers would do well to value the latter as more indicative of planning skills, tenacity, and raw courage.

 

Do you agree? What are you experiencing?

_______________________

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com
Image created by author in Mac Pages, Helvetica oblique.

Tempted to Quit Writing?

 “Struggling with your novel? Paralyzed by the fear that it’s nowhere near good enough? Feeling caught in a trap of your own devising? You should probably give up.” Lemony Snicket
 

My favorite feature of the NaNoWriMo site is its collection of pep talks. You could spend the whole month there escaping from writing altogether. I printed out one of those pep talks so the master of Unfortunate Events could send me screaming back to my work whenever I need that. He calls those sinister doubts my brain dreams up and smashes them, eloquently. Maybe he will work that magic for you as well. Here’s another passage:

“So who cares? Think of that secret favorite book of yours–not the one you tell people you like best, but that book so good that you refuse to share it with people because they’d never understand it. Perhaps it’s not even a whole book, just a tiny portion that you’ll never forget as long as you live. Nobody knows you feel this way about that tiny portion of literature, so what does it matter? The author of that small bright thing, that treasured whisper deep in your heart, never should have bothered.”
 

Here’s where to find it: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/pep/lemony-snicket

_________________________________

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

If You Ask Advice from an Author

If you ask 22 author friends for advice, they’ll write you a whole book!

Steve Silberman had been reporting on professionals with autism/Asperper’s and became an expert on such neurodiversity, so naturally, it’s time to write his book. The process of turning a 4,000 word article into a 100,000 word tome was intimidating, so he asked for a little help from his friends. It might take him the first month to digest the advice and select which parts to use, whether adjusting his scheduling, process, outlook, or technology, but it’s a great collection:

Neurotribes Blog

___________________________________

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Summer Survival

Is summer over yet?

Oh, yeah, I don’t have a break. And my children do! So here’s what I want–or rather don’t want–for me (and everyone around me) to be sane:

No unfinished chores. No whining about housework–and not from Young Son either. No fussing about when allowance is due, and how much is owed. No rethinking every day what needs to be done. No raised voices. No conflict. Sound impossible?

It’s happening! It’s My Job Chart!

My Job Chart screen shotIt’s free. (It’s supported by Amazon purchases; many families choose retail rewards as part of their planning. That’s it!)

The evening we set it up, eleven-year-old Young Son rushed around to do all of his chores rather than wait a whole day to begin earning. Naturally. I had to watch my computer because he sneaked into my side to add additional jobs, like “Make Mom’s bed.” He awarded it 15 points. (Hmmm. Would you pay 15 cents to have your bed made daily?) The child who would rather scrub toilets than sweep floors is suddenly doing both.

My favorite part is the messaging between the site and the parent’s cell or e-mail (or both). Here are a few messages I’ve received:

“I love this. I think that the way that they do this is absolutely amazing.”

“You are the most awesome mom a kid could have. Thank you for raising me to be nice, kind, n civilized.”

“I love you so blinking much, that i’m jolly well tearing up,wot wot!”

“You’re a blinkin’ genius, wot wot!”

(Yes, I am, thank you, but in this case, credit goes to Gregg Murset, My Job Chart founder, financial planner, and father of six.)

And Young Son enjoys my notes as well:

“I always knew you were a hard worker, but this is inspiring. I appreciate all you’re doing.”

So I’ll return to my teaching prep now as a delightful child practices musical theater solos while scrubbing his bathtub.

___________________________________

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Dead Grandmothers

We’ve been known to joke about it in faculty meetings: how many grandparents some students can lose in a single year. (And yes, we do name names.) Here’s one professor’s concerns about responding to those situations: Thomas H. Benton (William Pannapacker) in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In my classes, the work has to be done at some point, no matter what obstacles must be overcome. There’s no authentic incentive to lie–and I hope I’m teaching them that a clear conscience matters–and yet it happens. I can empathize, but empathy doesn’t include passing an unprepared student on to certain failure. How could the deceased ancestor approve?

Ironically, students struggling with attendance and punctuality are often those inspired by dead grandmothers. “My grandma said it was time to stop being a baby and get my degree.” It sounds like a noble ambition to honor a parent’s or grandparent’s advice, but it’s never enough. They have to want it for more selfish, more immediate reasons.

Whenever a student returns from a funeral saying, “It’s hard. I’m grieving. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate. But I know she [or he] wants me to finish,” I know they’re going to succeed, against this and all other difficulties. And those dead grandmothers are going to be proud.

___________________________________

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday Flick: Virtual Choir

We’re so glad Eric Whitacre did not make it as a pop star. Here’s a TED talk on his composing and creating influences: Mozart and a fan on YouTube. It’s also about the lengths to which humans will go to connect, and how well we do connect across technology. Enjoy!

Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir on TED Screen shot
Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir on TED

___________________________________

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011. All Rights Reserved.