Sunday, April 06, 2008

In Pursuit of Quality

As a substitute teacher, I sometimes begin high school class by telling students to pretend I'm their boss and this is the first day on the job. I say to them, "pretend I hardly know you and you know little of me except I'm your new employer and supervisor. You should want to make a good first impression on me since I hired you for a responsible job that pays well."

Usually one or more students will ask, "how much are we getting paid?" I cheerfully respond by telling them to apply whatever pay rate that makes you feel good.

The regular teacher's assignment might be for students to read an article, internalize its message, and write a summary of its content. I ask them not to copy verbatim sentences from the text, but to relate in their own words as much as possible a summary of the article. I ask them to feel free to express an opinion if they have one about the written material they will soon read.

I warn them that I will evaluate the quality of their written report. I tell them, "before I read a single word, I will hold your paper at arms length and look at how your text is balanced on the sheet; I will notice how clean and wrinkle free your paper looks; I'll notice how large or tiny your letters and words are formed; I'll see if it's written in cursive and will not be impressed if it's printed. I'll look for a name, date, and class period."

I tell students that their writing on the paper is "package quality". Their written words are packaging that will go a long way in determining if they are judged as mediocre or high quality in perception by others. After packaging, the accuracy of spelling, punctuation, grammar, clarity of sentences, and logic will further determine the quality of the report. Finally, their interpretation of the article will weigh least of all attributes in "my assessment" of their written summary. (The regular teacher will actually evaluate and grade their work.)

After students read the assigned text and begin to write, I move up and down the rows between the desks looking over their shoulders. Some students comment about their sloppy writing style. I use this opening to encourage them to improve through practice and desire to get better. I observe many students putting forth serious effort to do a quality job in the presentation of their writing assignment.

When all papers are finished and turned in to me, I observe that each paper is unique as each student in the class. Each paper is different. When I closely examine them, I see most as acceptable and a few extraordinary in quality.

The pleasing thing to me is to watch students put forth effort to impress me with their work. I verbally express to the class how satisfied I am with their effort and desire for quality. I urge students to retain that desire to improve as they approach future assignments. Many times in the future, family members, friends, customers, and a real boss will see their written words.

Hopefully, their words will be viewed as quality.

Have a good week!

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