March 17th, 2006

Andrew Magnum

Kick it to the Curve

I finished my final grades (for the second time) for both first and second grade special lesson classes, and I am not all together happy with the results. But let me back up and give some important facts about me and my class. The first thing you should realize is that I am a big fan of the curve. There is only perhaps one physics exam I would have legitimately passed without the curve. The curve is a fair way to evaluate both the class and the teacher. It is also a very nice tool to really push students because the curve will swoop in and help them. If they are actually deserve saving. One of my profs told us a horror story about taking a solid state graduate level exam. Out of 100 points he earned 4. His score was 4/100, which corresponded exactly to the average final grade B+. We never had that severe a curve in my physics classes but there were plenty of 40/100 is still an A. The easiest curve to apply is simply let the highest score in the class equal 100%. This can be devastating if one (and only one student) dominated, but if all the students are about the same level this is an easy way to do it.

There is always another way to effectively curve data and that is bin size. In America our standard bin sizes are A = 90-100%, B = 80-89%, C = 70-79%, etc. But Flora was telling us that in Ireland their bin sizes are much larger, they use A = 80-100%, B = 60–89%, etc. This is another way to curve the data and make it fairer.

Next is I think that participation needs to count for something. In physics classes did could not count for a lot (maybe the difference between a B+/A-), but this is a language class gosh darn it! They need to talk, they need to engage me, they need to try, and they need to listen. So I worked into my calculation of their grade participation points.

The next point I need to say is, my class is very hard. My instructions are in English, handouts are in English, activities are in English. It is an English class that features some Japanese for basic ideas. I think that total immersion is a more effective way to learn a language, but (being someone that knows this) it is also very difficult and very frustrating.
After reviewing my kids scores, I curved both ways. Only about 3 kids out of 20 would have gotten an A. About 5 a B, and all the rest Cs. That’s not fair. There is more to that distribution than the kids were not smart or didn’t try. I know that, so I increased bin size and set the highest grade equal to 100%. Now here is the problem with the Japanese system, it only has grades of A, B, C because everyone passes no matter what. This annoys me because a kid that does nothing and ends up with a 0% in a class would get the same grade as a kid that tried but just didn’t “get” it. That seems inherently unfair to me.

A lot of kids, particularly in my horrible second grade class, did no work for me. Nor did they participate in class, or even shut up when I was talking. So they got C’s. I turned my grades in and the teachers were upset so they asked me to add a “participation” grade as well. I tried to explain that it was built in, but they still wanted me to do it. So I did. Most of the grades went up because it seemed they wanted class points and participation points to be equals (a none weighted average) the problem is that participation points dominated because they were already a part of the work points.

I understand that giving C’s is a big deal because there are only three letter grades to give out (they also do not use + or –‘s) so to a potential high school that C could be trouble. I am not happy that the kid that LITERALLY never came to my class (I mean that, not a single time) got a C, and a kid that had good attendance, never did a bit of homework, but tried in class, also got a C. I understand that that isn’t fair. But I also don’t think it is fair that a kid who tried in class, did all their homework (though clearly did not understand), has to share a B with a kid that didn’t try at all on their homework. There just are not enough bins to properly describe the situation. It seems to me that the Japanese system is built to protect the lazy kids and always screws the smart hard working ones. Perhaps the US system is just as bad, but I was never behind the scenes so I didn’t see it, but it doesn’t feel that way in retrospect.

I feel like I am guilty of grade inflation, particularly with my second graders. My first graders were great kids that all tired in class, my second graders were monsters (I still love them mind you), but “love” should not be factored into grades!

I have to sit down and come up with a mathematical model that can provide me with a better system for next term.
  • Current Mood
    annoyed 70% annoyed 30% dirty +/- 15%
Manga Me


Tonight we had the “Good Job Third Grade Teachers” party. It was really fun. I sat at a table with my principle, third grade English teacher, and school nurse. All of which speak English from the good to great level. We had a huge feast and I can add two new items to the “odd stuff” that has been in my mouth! The mildly strange entry is noodles made from beans. They were clear and my principle told me their name means “spring rain”. They are very mild in taste, good stuff. And, in what may be the absolute strangest thing I have ever had in my mouth, drum roll please… JELLYFISH! I don’t know what part of the jellyfish I ate, perhaps the stingers because it didn’t look like the bell. It also had a very strong spicy bitter taste that I would think the stingers would taste like. Plus I felt an intense pain in my mouth followed by my tongue swelling up and I had to be rushed to the hospital. Okay that part didn’t happen. But it was bitter and spicy. They were also strangely crunchy (why do I always find this odd stuff strangely crunchy?). I did not care for jellyfish, though I did not not care for it either. It was odd. Here is a complete recap of what we ate:
Jellyfish dish
Fried chicken with bones, tough to eat with chopsticks
Fried chicken pieces in a delicious soy vinegar sauce
Shrimp in a hot and sour sauce
Some kind of oyster/clam in a creamy spinach white sauce (not very good)
Bean noodles in a surprisingly hot meat dish
Sweet and sour pork
More Gyoza
Fried chicken
Fried rice
Egg rolls
A jellied fruit dessert
I am stuffed. Enkai’s are insane in the amount of food that is stuffed in you. My third grade teacher thought I was holding back and said, “Andrew-sensei please be proud that you can eat a lot!” How can you argue with that? So I had me some more gyoza.

At one point my teachers tried to hook me up with the school nurse, I think. They were asking what type of woman I like, and my third grade teacher was kind of elbowing the nurse and giving me the “Ehh? Ehhhh?” look. He told me I should marry a Japanese woman, and gave me more of the “She’s available you know!” look. Then when I told them I was single he was kind of giving her the “Ehh? Ehhh?” look. Then I thought she was kind of hitting on me, or at least they were hitting on me for her via proxy, or something like that. But it is very hard to tell. The Japanese are fairly subtle when they deal with each other’s feelings. They know that foreigners are more open about feelings, so in some respects they go a little overboard. It must be kind of liberating. Add alcohol and you have even more “openness”. It also seems that the “Person A and Person B sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G” type of humor is considered top shelf hilarious. It all adds up to a lot of mixed signals. I am not the only JET that I know that has felt this way, to varying degrees. So who knows.

Enough interpersonal stuff, and let’s talk about, well, more interpersonal stuff. The real highlight of the night was sitting with my Principle. He is an ex-art teacher who spent a few months in America learning about how principles there. He was West Virginia and has fished in the Ohio River (he didn’t catch anything). He is a really interesting guy, whose English is really good. With a little work he could have been an English teacher easily. You can tell he really likes art, particularly foreign art. When my parents met him he talked a lot about Native American art. We mostly just talked about Japan stuff. He taught me a lot of kanji and showed me the general progression from picture to pictograph. He used bird (tori鳥) as an example. He drew a quick sketch of a quall and then evolution of how the head became the triple lines, the body became the double lines, and the feet/claws became the dashes. It was really cool. I have seen it shown in books, but it was interesting to see him do it. He also showed me a lot of interesting kanji and explained some pesky things like why a train station near me is called “Kyobashi” well the Kyo is for Kyoto and the “bashi” is bridge. It is the bridge out of Osaka Castle that is on an old road that leads right to Kyoto. So there you go!

Unfortunately, he is retiring in 14 days. My vice-principle will become my new principle. I am happy for him, but I am sad to see my principle go. The vice-principle has a lot of control over my daily comings and goings. My current vice-principle is very nice and generous in when I can leave, so I am a bit nervous I will end up with someone new that will also be. I guess I will just have to cross that bashi when I come to it.
  • Current Mood
    full 50% full 50% tired +/- 25%