Saturday, July 23, 2011

Down But Not Out

I guess.

Quick bulletin:  Passed my ELA multiple choice exam with a scaled score of 377, which puts me in the "distinguished" range.

But I didn't finish my essay, which puts me in the flunking range.

So sometime in the next six months I gotta do it all over.  Maybe by then I will have read all the stuff on the lit list and I'll already have a clue what to say about the prompt.  The one I got I think I may've read before, but not so recently I already had any organizational ideas about it.

Other things were involved in me ploughing this, but no time to rant or moan about them now.  Still have a sermon to write.

Round Two: Already on the Ropes?

This afternoon at 2:00 I take the second part of my English teacher certification exams, over English Language Arts.  In an hour and a half I saddle up and head down to the testing center.  I'd planned to spend a few hours this morning doing some last-minute skimming in Wikipedia and SparkNotes for basic information on all the novels, poems, speeches, etc., I should have read in the past eighteen months but didn't.

But for the most part, I'm not.  I can't.  I'm just too lightheaded and tired.

It's what I get for not turning off the bedside light until 4:00 AM.  Especially after a week or two when I pretty consistently turned in by 11:30 at the latest.  So I couldn't sleep past 9:00 this morning, even if I wanted to.

Five hours.  Not at heck of a lot of sleep before a big hairy test, especially one where I'll have to write a sudden-death essay on some work of literature that I've likely never seen before and know nothing about.

I'm not sleepy.  Just dizzy and quilt-stuffing-headed.  I've eaten a protein-rich breakfast in the past hour, so I doubt it's hunger.  Insufficient sleep, it has to be.

I could have gotten to bed earlier.  I finished the curriculum material and all its quizzes around 10:30 last night.  But I figured I'd better go ahead and take one of the practice tests.  125 questions; they give you three hours to complete it.  Goody for me, I did it in less than an hour and got 90% of them right.  No, actually, nothing to brag about, considering I took the same test several months ago and most of the questions were absurdly easy.  (I doubt the real exam will be the same.)  Turning in at midnight wouldn't've served me too poorly, but no.  I simply had to search online to find out about some of the questions I missed.  And commence my quick-and-dirty knowledge fill-up, starting with the reading list dramatic works I've never read. 

Great.  That took me till a little after 2:00.  I fed the dog, took him out to do his business, shut everything off and went upstairs, took a bath, and got into my nightclothes.  And then I started thinking about a couple of things I still wasn't sure about.  Like, how do you recognize an unreliable narrator?  And what's the difference between irony and paradox?

Back downstairs, restart the laptop, read up on these matters till nearly 4:00.  Learned some interesting things.  Great food for thought.  But this morning, as has been said so cogently in another context, "Teechur, my brayne iz full!"

So instead of cramming, I'm indulging in a nice whinge.  Instead of reviewing my notes (Oh, gosh, what are all the different organizational modes for expository writing?), I'm writing in my blog.  I'm not to the happy point where I can say I don't care if I pass or not.  I just don't have the time or brainpower this morning to deal with anything more.

Yeah, there's a chance I may pass the multiple choice if I read the questions carefully and keep my response to what they actually say and not what I hurriedly perceive them to. And make sure to question my own assumptions about things.

The essay?  Passing that will depend greatly on what the gobbet is (hee-hee, Brit-speak).  And if it strikes any sparks.  Maybe, if I can get my old BSing motor revved up . . . . If the online literary criticism I've been reading is any guide, all I have to do is say the work refers to the inherent corruption of capitalism and the futility of the American Dream, and I'm home free.

Cotton-batting-stuffed head and all.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wrestling for a Fall(acy)

Presently, I'm struggling to distinguish the various kinds of logical fallacies.  More specifically, I need to determine the proper definition of the anecdotal fallacy. 

This arises out of last night's practice quiz question treating of Socrates' Apology.  It's the place where he's maintaining that in condemning him to death, the assembly really isn't doing him any harm, since death is either a dreamless sleep, or else a chance to meet and converse with the good and the great from the past.  To buttress his assertion that sleep without dreams is a good and pleasant thing, he appeals to common experience.  He asserts that everyone, from kings to slaves, including "you," the citizens sitting in judgement over him, knows by experience that this is true.  Can't exactly recall how the question was phrased, but I chose the answer saying that he is appealing to empirical (or experiential) evidence which could perhaps be confirmed by formal study.  (Or disproven, which is the nature of experiment).  The official answer was that Socrates was appealing to anecdotal evidence, and his argument was therefore faulty.

Huh?  I thought anecdotes were specific, descriptive, individual, and (usually) unconfirmed incidences of an event or condition.  As in, "This certain thing happened to me; it must be true for everybody."  If I appeal to the experience of the mass of humanity, and that in an experiential way, how is that "anecdotal"?

I've looked up the definition of the anecdotal fallacy online, and every place I've looked seems to agree that it does imply something specific.  Here's a good definition from The Fallacy Files:  "The Anecdotal Fallacy occurs when a recent memory, an unusual event, or a striking anecdote leads one to overestimate the probability of events of that type occurring―especially if one has access to better evidence of the frequency of such events."  This was not what Socrates was doing, so I still aver that the practice quiz maker erred.   

That said, I probably was wrong, too.  Upon closer thought I'd suggest that Socrates was making a bandwagon appeal.  As in, "Everybody thinks this is true, so it really must be! (And maybe there's something wrong with you if you don't!)"  The proposition that "everybody" thinks a dreamless sleep is best is not in the same empirical category as the assertion, say, that people feel better after a good meal.

Another thought, on process.  On these practice tests, I'm frequently experiencing brain-paralysis when they ask a question like, "What logical fallacy is the writer guilty of in this excerpt?" or "What organizational method is the writer using?"  Then follow the names of four examples of the relevant category and I'm left babbling, "Oh gosh, oh gosh, I can't think, I can't remember, I'll just have to guess!!!!"

But I know these categories!  I can recognize when people are using them!  How much better for me to ignore the nouns for the nonce and focus instead on the verbs!  To look at the actual text and ask, "How is the author arguing badly or deceptively?  Oh, yes, look, he's inserted a distractor to get us off the main issue!  The red herring fallacy, hooray!"

(And in that case (grumble, grumble), "red herring" had jolly well better be one of the multiple choice options.)

Thinking Out Loud

Some thoughts while I'm studying for the English Language Arts portion of my teacher certification exam on Saturday:

First, I need to clarify some concepts, and blogging might be a good way to do it.

Second, I'm worried, because in addition to things I actually don't know in the material, I've come across some really screaming errors, including outright, verifiable errors of fact or premise* as well as contradictions to what the lessons had presented before.  Then (more germane to this essay) there are what I would strongly argue to be errors in interpretation.  The unknown curriculum author will draw a conclusion, or a review question will be posed, and the "correct" answer drives me to say-- no, often to scream-- "That's not what it's saying at all!!  Are you out of your mind!?"  So what am I supposed to do on the test?  Shall I, all sheeplike, reflect the misinterpretations presented in the practice material?  Or shall I answer as I truly think best, trusting that it's better to be hung for a wolf as for a sheep, and the makers of the real exam aren't the same folks who came up with the practice material anyway?

But, I reflect, maybe some of the disagreement is arising because I don't yet understand the principles that underlie some of these questions or their answers.  I'm willing to admit that might be the case.  So, rather than taking notes in my illegible handwriting and being unable to locate the right spot afterwards, I thought I'd do my musing here.  That way I can get my thought processes clear in my own mind, and know where to find my "notes" hereafter.
*One of the first I tripped over was on a review question dealing with Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."  It asked why he used negatives in a certain place-- e.g., "It is no security . . . this is no evidence . . . that the next step will not be into another world."  All four of the multiple choice options were weak, but I picked the one that said something like, "He wants his audience to be afraid."  But nooooo!  The favored answer was that he did it to make people pay closer attention, the answer explanation being that Rev. Edwards used deliberately convoluted language to force "the reader" to "go back" to untangle his line of thought!  Hellsbells, you idiot, this is a sermon we're dealing with.  It was preached!!!  Many times!!!  Orally!  No preacher wants his hearers to get all involved in what he just said such that they don't catch what he's saying now!  Obviously, the quiz maker hasn't the least clue about it.  The correct answer should have been that Edwards, by asserting the negative, is implicitly bringing up the correlative erroneous affirmative, which he wishes to undermine and destroy.  He did it, I do it, all good preachers do it.  You have to disabuse folks of their erroneous assumptions!   Break down those strongholds and bring in the truth instead!
Thank you.  Let us pray.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ich Haue Ywimpen

I've called the testing agency just now and postponed my English Language Arts exam a full twenty-four hours, to Saturday instead of Friday afternoon.  If there'd been a slot available next week, I would have taken that instead.

Studying for the ELA is not going quickly.  I'm working on it, but I keep getting off on interesting tangents.  Like looking up and comparing different critical takes on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsy and digging into the intertwinings of The Great Vowel Shift.

I need to keep moving and at least do a run or two through the basic ABCTE online material.  Several weeks ago I took and passed one of the practice tests, but I daren't trust to my English language background knowledge and brazen BS to get me through the real thing.  But another day's worth of study may make it possible.

Of course, the change will play merry hell with my sermon writing for Sunday morning.  I'm sure I won't get home till 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening at the earliest.  And I'm pretty certain I've never preached on the Matthew pericope I'm committed to this Lord's Day.  So no pulling anything out of the drawer and touching it up.  And given the distance to the church and the time of their service, I have to leave the house at 8:15 AM at the latest.  So no staying up till two or three o'clock working on it.

Which means I have to keep my sermon really, really simple, right?

And that I"d need to stop blogging and get back to studying, right away.  Right.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ai Haz uh Confused

I passed my PTK multiple choice portion today.  Nowhere near acing it, but good enough, considering how much I (didn't) study.  Now I'm beginning the four to six week wait for the score on my memo/essay.

I probably did myself no good this evening haunting the ABCTE Writing Component forum, because everything I read there confuses and discourages me dreadfully.  So many people there, who like me have been writing, supposedly effectively, most of their lives, lamenting about flunking the essay over and over.  So many writing professionals, who somehow fell short of the mysterious, esoteric standard that divides a pass from a fail.

So what hope do I have?  And if I fail (maybe because I didn't spend enough time proofreading), could my fault be a paranoid fixation on content?

Content.  The one point that none of the rubrics and none of the forum comments seem to address.

Content.  An essay or memo can't be written without it.  But as embryo teachers, we PTK examinees are really winging it on theory when it comes to actual classroom practice.  A typical prompt for this exam asks the candidate to write a memo suggesting a solution to some hypothetical school problem (I can't say more than that-- confidentiality issues).  Well, suppose my grammar, spelling, vocabulary, etc., are all fine, but my ideas are way out in left field?  What if I'm in error about a matter of fact?  And what if I in my inexperience omit some "obvious" supporting detail?

I suppose I'm worried about this because I was taking pains to avoid it.  And therefore ran out of time on my final proofread.   I felt compelled to cover the subject realistically and thoroughly, and at the end I thought of a detail of this sort and went back to insert it, totally convinced the graders would think I was an inadequate fool if I left it out.  But maybe I'm wrong.  I wonder what those who pass the essay would say about this.  Can you write piffle with good mechanics and still sail through?

Something else.  The experienced souls on the forums keep saying one should avoid being "eloquent" in one's PTK essay.  Why is that a bad word, anyway? It means fluent and persuasive! What's the difference between the dreaded "eloquence" and having a strong, diverse, communicative vocabulary, as called for by the rubric?

I read on the forum that to pass, one should write like a fifth grader.  I'm sorry, but I've substitute-taught fifth graders, and I doubt the scorers want us to write as incoherently and clumsily as that.  Frankly, I can't write like that.  Maybe the advice should be, "Write as if your correspondent were a fifth grader."  Fine.  But what principal (a typical addressee) would put up with being talked down to in that fashion?  And how does fifth-graderism result in writing that is "fully develop[ed, with] elaborate[d] ideas," where "[t]he writer . . .  uses great variety and complexity in sentence structure"?  The very rubric seems to militate against anything so simplistic.

Or is the rubric so much piffle and they really score these essays by using them as targets at the corner pub darts tournament?

I hope that in a few weeks I'll be embarrassed because I've passed and find out I've been ranting for nothing.  But given what I read on the forums, I doubt it.  I doubt it very much indeed.

Sink or Swim

In approximately a half hour I'm getting in my car and driving nearly 25 miles to a testing center, where I will take the Professional Teaching Knowledge examination for the ABCTE English Language Arts teaching certificate.

I signed up for this online program a year and a half ago, in late January of 2010.  I've already been granted one six-month extension, which ends July 31st.  If I do not take both my exams before the end of this month, I forfeit my tuition.  If I do take them, and fail, I can apply for another six months for a retake.

So I'm venturing my PTK today, ready or not.

So why am I not ready?  Several reasons, some more reasonable than others.  In the first place, the ABCTE website is not the clearest to navigate and it wasn't easy to find out where the material even was to be found.  In the second place, I was diagnosed with possible ovarian cancer the month after I signed up.  Going through surgery and chemo isn't conducive to study and retention.  In the third place, I can be a terrible grasshopper.  Sing and hop from task to task and do what seems most attractive and best at the time, oh, yeah, and never mind delving into hard and esoteric new subjects.

And my biggest reason of all for putting off really, really studying until the past three or four weeks?

I've been a substitute teacher for the past two years.  And as much as I love and enjoy the kids (even the mischievous, difficult ones), as much as I enjoy sharing and enciting knowledge, understanding (and all the rest of the Bloom's Taxonomy levels of learning), I hate, hate, hate educational politics.  I hate the prospect of having to join a union that does not reflect my political views.  I hate the squabbles that go on in the media and sometimes literally on state capital grounds over the perceptions of teachers and their rights.  And most of all, I hate the squirmy, slimy, cuttle-fish-ink-squirting politics that goes on in individual schools, where policies both official and unspoken make it difficult to maintain good discipline, let alone to guide the students to high levels of understanding.

But I paid the money.  It's a big chunk of change and I mustn't waste it.  And like it or not, becoming a public school teacher may be my only hope at this stage of my life of getting a steady job and getting my debts paids off.

So I'm going.  Wish me luck.