Thursday, September 4, 2014

Assessment Documents in Iambic Pentameter

--I have been looking at forms and letters and e-mails and thinking about grad school Kristin.  What would she have made of my current life?

--I tell myself that even people who get traditional academic jobs must find themselves doing tasks that left them saying, "I did not go to grad school for this."  One wants to write the definitive biography of Dorothy Wordsworth or the great work of literary analysis of her journals, and one ends up directing the Freshman English program.  Or one is so overwhelmed by teaching duties that one never gets that definitive biography done, just academic essays here and there.

--Yesterday I was talking with someone about assessment charts and Institutional Effectiveness documents.  I said, "I could rewrite it in iambic pentameter, but I'm not good with this math."  We were talking about weighted aggregates, and even though it's been less than 24 hours, I cannot explain this concept or how it would be better than what we're doing now.

--I was tempted to rewrite the document in iambic pentameter, just for my own amusement and to see if anyone would notice.  But even in iambic pentameter it would not be great poetry.  Or could it be?

--Wordsworth rewrote the diaries of his sister into great poetry.  Why has no one done the same for the assessment and compliance documents which take up so much of our working lives?

--A writing prompt for you:  use a poem that uses weighted aggregate as a symbol.  I love the way it sounds.  Maybe it's time for a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poem that just delights in the words/sounds of assessment and puts those words together in ways that sound good but make no sense.

--When I'm deep in work on assessment documents, I worry that I am writing with language that makes no sense.  I was glad that the assessment expert declared my document done.

--We did tinker with language together.  I was often the one who figured out how to write the sentence that made it into the document, after first offering a more flamboyant version.  It reminded me of grad school papers, where I excoriated past critics for not seeing the elements that I saw.  Then I toned it down to be words that showed that I understood the work that had come before, and how I was taking an exciting leap forward.

--Yesterday, as we revised the assessment document, I wrote chunks of prose like this one:  "The disparity of the data is confounding, and so we hesitate to advocate large-scale changes based on this.  We will collect data from all four quarters to see if the disparity remains, and will enlarge the scope of our assessment to include other classes that write about art."  Even now, I see opportunities for revision, non-iambic-pentameter opportunities, like not ending the sentence with "this."  I see the red pen of my grad school friend who would have reminded me that "this" is a modifier and thus, needs something to modify.

--My writing friend wrestles with her short stories based on the Hindu myths of India; she revises and revises and the resulting story is so different from the original that she is tempted to seek publication for the earlier drafts.  She wonders when she will be done.  I tell her, "When the book needs to go to press."

--Likewise, we are done with this year's assessment documents because the year is over; it's time to be done so that we can do the assessment work for the next fiscal year.  It could have been a better document, with stronger conclusions or with a vaster collection of data.  But it's time to move on.

--If we had world enough and time, this assessment doc could be in rhyme.

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