Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Human Side of Assessing Writing

Commas, all I can think about is commas.
The higher level thinking skills it requires to write, and assess writing, brings humans right up to the level of angels. Which is a metaphor no computer program could compute, I'm guessing. After teaching kids to write for about thirty years, I will say that allowing a mathematical computer program to attempt to inspire young writers is rather unimaginative, to say the least.

I've seen what those programs did to the Gettysburg Address. Low scores for brevity and poor sentence structure, no doubt. "I Have A Dream," I bet too much repetition and veering off the main topic. We won't consider what a computer would try to do to poetry--ha, it kind of makes me laugh--the overload e e cummings would give it (just on written conventions!)

Can we trust our kids' thought development to a computer program?

1. The Algorithm Didn’t Like My Essay 

No points for free indirect discourse, Jane.

Even English teachers have different perspectives on writing. I've worked with English teachers that will say, "Oh, I don't like poetry." How can that be? How can a person with no taste for the higher developed thoughts of man train young people to be eloquent? How can a machine with no soul?

2. Computers Grade Essays Fast ... But Not Always Well 

The choice of words (and using written conventions, sentence structure, new use of vocabulary) to express thought really need an educated, well-read person to analyze it. And a person tolerant of new ideas. Are we looking for Data from Star Trek? He couldn't even use a contraction or understand an idiom.

Don't we want our kids to create new idioms?

What do they mean, "Miss Bronte, Wuthering Heights too emotional?"

 "There's a terrible tendency to confuse raising standards with standardizing." 

— Sir Ken Robinson


Yes, Sir Ken, standardizing the genius of the next generation will only make them really bored with education. And finding a new venue to express themselves besides traditional school. I think maybe they've already found the acceptance of new ideas online.

I scored 3 on the rubric, same as the Emancipation Proclamation?

 "On a scale of 1 to 6, one of the greatest presidents of the United States was only getting 2s and 3s. " 


- University of Akron's Mark Shermis, on a computer's evaluation of the Gettysburg Address

I've often thought it was a good thing Lincoln had a frontier education. More clear thinking. More clarity of action. Our kids are on the tech frontier and will reject the criticism of an algorithm that is from the past, traditional and can't think; just like they reject intolerant and backword teachers.

We won't be climbing the ladder of Bloom's Taxonomy if we remain super-glued to written on the lower rungs of convention and sentence structure without the inspiration of living language.  Woops, that was another metaphor a computer couldn't evaluate.

Man, I only got a 3 on the Writing Rubric.


"Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio."
Love's Labour's Lost -- Act I, Scene II

Almost funny how William's words would end in the clutches of a computer program--maybe Word's Labour's Lost?

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