Friday, July 11, 2003

AP Wire | 07/10/2003 | Study: 12th-graders can't write well

On WPA-L this week, Ann Larson posted a news article by Ben Feller that included this quotation:
AP Wire | 07/10/2003 | Study: 12th-graders can't write well: "The average test score for seniors dropped slightly since 1998; what's worse, the proportion of 12th-graders who reached at least the basic level dropped from 78 to 74 percent. That means about a quarter of seniors, within a 25-minute time limit, could not provide an organized answer that showed they understood their task and their audience.

'By the time students graduate high school, they should be able to produce more than disorganized self-expression or Internet chat,' said Marilyn Whirry, former national teacher of the year and a member of the board that oversees the national assessment."
When I read this section of Feller's article, I couldn't help but think how I'd much rather have one of the invested arguments that I see students have in chatrooms, IRC, and the like than a namby-pamby 5-paragraph theme. Besides, why does Internet chat have to be the bad guy all the time? Why is it okay to pick on a channel of communication, without any discussion of the possibilities of good writing there? Do you think maybe communication could actually be better in a communication where there is an audience actually listening to the discussion? where there is someone who would notice if things are out of order?

There's a lot to be learned from an Internet chat and e-mail. Audience. Purpose. Voice. Evidence and support for arguments. Need for specific detail. I wonder what would happen if rather than this kind of writing prompt:

Write a essay arguing for or against grade inflation.

to something like this:

One of the biology teachers at your school has decided to change from a ten-point grade scale (100 to 90 is an A, 89 to 80 is a B, etc.) to a seven-point grade scale (100 to 93 is an A, 92 to 85 is a B, etc.). The teacher wants to encourage students to put more effort into their classes by raising the requirements. The teacher has set up an online forum where students, parents, and other teachers can post their response to the idea. Write a message that you'll post to the form that argues for or against the new grade scale.

If we had test prompts that actually provided a complete writing scenario and if we thought about the positive ways that Internet writing can be used to help writers, I wonder what might happen...

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Slow Down. You Load Too Fast.

Is there any page that loads too fast? This morning, I decided to take a look at the iMac resources. Unfortunately, I didn't have hours to wait for the pages to load. I actually had time to get up, walk to the kitchen and get my breakfast out of the microwave, come back to the computer—and the page still wasn't loaded.

So why am I complaining about all this? I love my Mac, and I'll look at those pages later from work where they'll load faster. But the experience reminded me of the problems that we sometimes stumble into as teachers when we design or require complex Internet resources for our students. It's important to design with the lowest common denominator in mind: in this case, dial-up access. And at the beginning of each term, we need to point out the Internet needs for the class and ask all students to try out the pages for speed, in addition to other issues. If they tell you that they have time to get their pizza out of the microwave before the pages load, it's time to rethink that design!

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Pop-Up Ads & Rotating Ads & Pop-Under Ads

Let me ad (heh, had to say that. sometimes typos are so fun) something here. Most of my design work these days is for a K12 site, and we just can't trust any site with advertising. It's so hard to know when a change in a site's user policy will make them decide to accept an advertisement for a product that some parent or principal or community member considers inappropriate.

So, snobby though this will sound, I just don't link to anything that has advertising anymore. That does limit my choices, but it eliminates embarassment later. Besides, what kind of ethos does a site with intrusive ads have anyway?