Student Learning and Assessment

The great state of California has some of the best universities and secondary schools on the planet. In fact, it’s selection of community colleges, known as the California Community Colleges Network (or CCC) continues to provide award winning services year after year. While it’s no secret that California (along with many other states) struggles to keep high school students in the classroom and off the streets, the CCC is dedicated to providing affordable quality education to help such student who persevere broaden their horizons for the future.

The CCC is made of of 112 college and services nearly two and a half million students, and it’s significant task to ensure that student learning needs are being met. A variety of different programs and incentives have been utilized in helping teachers and faculty at these community and junior colleges. One such initiative is referred to as the SLO Assessment, or sometimes better known by it’s official name: The Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes. Recently we’ve seen a number of schools struggling to successfully implement the processes required for SLO proficiency. The 2012 deadline set in place by the CCC caused many faculty members to view the SLO requirements as only a number they needed to hit, rather than as a charge to focus on improving the quality of education provided to college students and having proficiency be naturally achieved as a bi-product.

It is not our intention to speak ill of those professors and other staff who may still hold such opinions, but rather to offer a comprehensive understanding of the task at hand. Let it be known that there are many educators and administrators who continue to give their whole heart and soul for the benefit of improving the quality of education being provided to the students of California. Many of them have been very resourceful in their attempts to improve not only test scores, but student learning in general. The level of ingenuity we’ve seen coming from many of these classrooms far exceeds any expectations held by the academic senate prior to the setting forth of the SLO Assessment standard.

Finally, it is the goal and purpose of this site to highlight and reward this extra effort being put in by faculty members. While there are many great awards, including the Promising Outcomes Work and Exemplary Research (P.O.W.E.R) Award and other recognitions given out to exemplary administrators (and various exemplary programs) annually during conferences held throughout the year not many such recognitions are known to the general public. Using this site really as more of a blog, we will highlight individuals in the community who are taking unique approaches to improving the level of education provided by their organization. Some of these individuals may have previously won awards for their collaborative efforts, some may have not, but regardless they are achieving the desired results as witnessed by their student’s comprehensive test scores. Such individuals have not gone through such effort for recognition or congratulation. They go the extra mile because educating is their passion. We, however, feel that it is our duty to make such great acts known.

The Teacher’s Pen is Mightier than the Sword

Arthur Sanders may look like an ordinary man to you and me, but what he has done to change the lives of his students is absolutely extraordinary. Sanders teaches English to students in a high school in California, where he now lives. He was born and raised by a single mother in a small town in Arizona, and he has gone on to do fantastic things. Sanders has said that if he can change just one student’s life that his job would be done; however, he has helped students, and continues to have a great impact on the high school kids in his classroom year after year.

Sanders has been teaching English for 17 years now, and has developed a passion for his profession that can be seen in the students he teaches. Always wanting to help those that were struggling in the subject, and in school in general, Sanders gets uninterested teens into writing by having them write about subjects that they are passionate about. He was there once, he says, and wants to show his students how wonderful writing really can be. Not everyone can compose an essay about every topic, but when given the chance in the proper environment, everyone can write about something they love.

Not only does Sanders give students the opportunity to write about topics that are specific and near to their hearts, he has them put away the laptops to really get a feel for their writing. Students are advised to use stationary and fountain pens – to put away their books and get their ink flowing pens down onto paper. As a teacher and a former student himself, Sanders strongly believes that using some sort of writing utensil instead of a computer makes students feel as though their writing is more important. And as he has stated, “My students’ papers are important. They are each special in their own way.” Although Sanders admits that he has received some criticism for what he calls the Fountain Pen Method, the results speak for themselves.

Along with incorporating his alternative writing assignments, Sanders is also there to guide students along the way. He frequently stays after class to tutor students who are experiencing problems. His students have noted that he often gives up his free time on weekends and evenings to help them get it right. This teacher puts in the effort, and the students respond to him. Students with low GPAs have used Sanders’ teachings to raise them. Exam scores have gone up as well.

When asked about the overwhelmingly positive outcome, Sanders said, “It’s all about taking pride in their work. These students have started to care about their grades, and now they have something to show for it. Their futures are very bright.” He’s right to believe that too. Several of his students have gone on to achieve success in career fields such as journalism, healthcare, and Sanders’ favorite: education.

Although he is happy to be recognized for his influence on students, Sanders is sure to give them all the credit. “They already had the talent. I just gave them a push,” he stated. This top notch educator doesn’t plan on changing his teaching methods any time soon either. Lucky for his future students, the Fountain Pen Method is here to stay.

College Sleeping Assignment

Alice Hooper isn’t the most popular teacher in her school. She doesn’t have the most tenure. When she first started teaching at her junior college two years ago, she could have easily taken the quiet approach. No one was expecting much out of a college professor straight out of university herself, but she decided to throw caution to the wind and decided to mix things up a little bit.

In her first few weeks at her new teaching job, Professor Hooper found that many of her student would come in to class noticeably tired. Her morning class began at 9 AM and it wasn’t rare for half of her class to be asleep at their desks way before the lecture was over. Now Alice had attended college herself, and was not surprised in the least bit by having sleeping college students in her class. She knew that work and social lives contributed to her students staying up into the early hours of the morning. However, she also knew that students who get enough sleep get better grades, but she wanted to prove it. Her first semester of college she let it slide. Her students were adults and accountable for their own actions. If they chose to sleep during class, she allowed them to. The grades she gave our that first semester were right on par with the GPA average of similar classes at her school, and she kept detailed records of them.

Her second semester she taught the same classes, with her first morning class scheduled on Mondays and Wednesdays and her second morning class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For her first morning class, she changed the syllabus and added a semester long project entitled “Sleeping Assignment.” She left her second morning class’ syllabus unchanged. Now the “Sleeping Assignment” she assigned required that each student keep record of their sleep cycles. It required that they spend time researching websites that taught about ways to go to bed faster. They also were required to establish a regular sleep cycles of at least eight hours a night. All semester long they kept a log of the hours slept, and the methods that helped them fall asleep as quickly as possible. As part of the final, they wrote a paper about their experience normalizing their sleeping patterns.

According to Alice the effects were apparent almost immediately. It was obvious when halfway through the semester not one sleeping student was to be found in her first morning class. Her Tuesday/Thursday class however remained almost exactly the same as her first semester classes. She waited until the end of the semester so that she could have concrete evidence of what she already suspected, and that confirmation came. At the end of the semester her MW class had a significantly higher average GPA than her TTh Class. The GPA achieved by her TTh Class was nearly identical to the GPA of her first semester classes. What’s more is that her MW and TTh classes had the exact same assignments with the exception of her MW class having the additional “Sleeping Assignment.”

Every class she has taught since then has included the “Sleeping Assignment” as a required project on her syllabi. Alice’s students consistently have higher GPA’s than the average for her college, their test scores as required by the guidelines for SLO Assessment proficiency. Perhaps the most gratifying result from her efforts are the notes she receives from past students on a regular basis detailing how her class forever changed the lives of those whom she taught.


The “Caring” System

“The most important thing to realize in this life is that we are all in this together.” This is a favorite quote of Frank Lindon, a college professor of 20 years and his classrooms are a shining example of this ideology. You may have already guessed, but his methods have directly led to his curriculum being praised and adopted by many. Interestingly enough this simple principle has led to his students being the sole cause of his college achieving the required Student Learning Assessment compliance.

Let’s take a moment to discuss Frank’s philosophy. The greatest responsibility on the planet is given to parents, to raise Earth’s future generation. The second greatest responsibility on that planet is that of teacher. To provide each learner with the tools and the knowledge they need to successfully take over the position of the older generation. Therefore, the most important thing any teacher can teach is to care about others. For if the rising generation does not have compassion for others, they will not be inclined to train up the rising generation.

If you think about it, Frank’s mantra makes complete sense. Our schools and universities are training the future leaders of the world. The world can greatly benefit from their work and talents, but only if these future leaders care enough about others to intentionally decide to use their skills for the benefit of others. Professor Lindon has made it his life’s mission to not only teach, but to instill this principle of caring into the hearts of his students.

Most major religious organizations and ethics groups have some version of the golden rule that they teach. Frank has his own version of it as part of his class mission statement, and gives his students the opportunity to put it into practice through a class grading system that is known as the “The Caring System.” In short, each student’s grade is directly influenced by all of the students in the class. Now this idea isn’t new, as many classes grade on a curve. What is unique is the incentive that Professor Lindon provides for students going out of their way to help each other. He provides extra credit for such acts of kindness, and gives the receivers of such acts extra credit if they choose to pay the good deeds forward.

This has led to an interesting phenomenon in his classroom. He wants all of his students to learn the class material, and one of the biggest obstacles to this in his opinion is students taking sick days. Missing days for being sick in college is a pretty common things. Students are often overwhelmed with their personal lives, being on their own for the first time in their lives, as well as the stress that school can put on an individual. Often times their immune system’s buckle and they get a cold or a the flu. It has become regular practice in his class when a student misses a day because they are ill, for all remaining healthy students to find website online with quotes about getting well soon which express the way they feel. Using these sayings wishing their sick fellow student to get better, they make Get Well cards. They then designate a class member to deliver these cards and check in with the sick student to see if there is anything they need to help alleviate the pain of their sickness or make their life better in any way. Needless to say that no one fakes a sick day in Frank’s class, and those who really do experience physical ailment always say they feel bolstered by the kind words of their classmates.

Frank is not well known for what he does. His influence will probably have a greater impact on society than he will ever know, but when the CCC and governing bodies of California Colleges challenged his school to improve the quality of student learning, he took that charge seriously. He invented a system that not only affects his students, and the people that they will touch in their life times, but it affects his fellow educators. Professor Lindon provides an excellent example of how important it is for teachers to “care” about their jobs.