Thursday, February 25, 2016

Organic Writing Assessment

At the beginning of chapter 1, "Organic Matters", Bob Broad equates writing assessment to organic farming. His argument makes sense in that he wants people to understand that it is important to understand where assessment comes from and that it should be locally developed. And that's all well and good, but the same arguments that are brought up when discussing organic farming also apply to views of organic assessment. For starters, when thinking abut organic farming you have to take into account the time and money that has to go into the process. Some farmers and teachers alike don't have other commitments and responsibilities they have to attend to. In a school where research is the focus an instructor has to split time between teaching and research they may not have the time to invest in a more thorough form of assessment. Others may have a heavy teaching load that they have to manage. Think about how many classes an adjunct instructor may be teaching. I've known some that teach six classes a semester; that's on average 150 students they have to work with. On top of that comes the cost. How much does the organic, locally-grown tomato cost in comparison to the mass produced one? Who is the perceived consumer? In teaching terms, what's the average amount of students an instructor wanting to use organic assessment methods effectively can teach? How does this affect the number of instructors that the school hires? Doe that impact the types of instructors (Full-time, adjunct, grad students, etc)? Does that change the budget? Will funds have to be diverted from something else to hire more instructors?

Secondly, if we're sticking with ag econ metaphors, what happens to areas with food deserts? How do you utilize "home gardening" techniques when you don't have a yard to garden in? There are a lot of areas where the number of composition faculty are scares and composition is taught by those not just outside the field of composition, outside the field of English. In our approaches to assessment are we universalized the idea of a writing program? Have we thought about faculty the don't lie within the norms that we're used to? One of the most forgotten groups of composition instructors are those who teach at community colleges. Many, if not most, of them have not studied or been adequately trained in writing assessment. Quite of few of them don't even have a degree in English. How are they supposed to learn how to do organic assessment? They are also the ones who generally teach higher course loads with more students for less pay. And many of their students are the underprivileged. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have organic assessment, but I think too often we look at assessment through the eyes of the privileged. Assessment is a hard thing to do and often times those with the toughest situations regarding assessment are ignored in these conversations.

1 comment:

  1. It is a great point to consider how many students many composition instructors work with when they teach multiple courses at one time. A challenge with organic assessment is how individualized it sometimes ends up being, which then pushes the instructor with a heavy course load to gear the feedback individually toward a high number of students. A way to balance this is to go for quality over quantity; a response does not have to be long to be insightful or on point. A quality assessment can be measured in terms of its content; word count of the response is secondary to the quality of what it says. This still requires some difficult thinking about what to say in many cases, but it does release the pressure to write lengthy paragraphs to each student when a shorter response could work for the situation.