Notes from Camp: Avoiding bias in evaluating work

Today at basketball camp the head coach at camp told a story to the campers about an extremely bright, talented kid from New Jersey. The kid was the valedictorian of his high school class, extremely bright, athletic, tall, good-looking etc. He had his pick of the Ivies, he's going to Yale to study Arabic. But he made one little mistake that cost him a lot; addressing the class at graduation, he told the school how for one assignment, he (K.) and his friend (T.) swapped the names on their papers - his friend (a C student) turned in K's work, with "T." written at the top, and got a C, but K. turned in T's work and got an A. Obviously telling the audience this at graduation was a dumb thing to do (always have at least one person look over your remarks first), and the kid's in a lot of hot water now, not to mention he pissed off all of his fellow students and teachers. But I think the mistake is one that a lot of teachers would make - a writing's "brand" is really important, and when we see the name at the top signaling quality work, we tend to think better of what we're about to read. If we really want to force kids to produce their best work, and give low-performing students a chance, all examined work needs to be evaluated blindly - teachers need to read it without a name attached. There's an argument that teachers should evaluate work while keeping in mind the ability of person who wrote the work, but that argument carries no truck with me - I think the brand/expectations effect far outweighs the latter effect. Furthermore, students should be held to the same standard. I have a lot of trouble talking to kids - I know that in every confrontation with a kid there are times when you need to be tough and times when you need to reassure and encourage, and that there's a correct thing to say, and carry yourself, in every situation, to get the kids to play hard, do what you want and accept your decisions. I am slower to pick up the right way to do things than most. I succeed because whenever I come across a new situation and don't handle it well, I ask someone what they would have done, remember it, and do it the next time the situation arises, building a sort of "response cache." For some people I feel like this skill comes naturally, but maybe I overestimate their skills when they had my level of experience (16 weeks of camp), and underestimate the deference given to adults, vs. 20-year olds. Like most things, the key is to practice, evaluate and improve every week.

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One thought on “Notes from Camp: Avoiding bias in evaluating work

  1. Sharon Burke

    Wow, this is a great post and I think it is so true. I think so many teachers have favorites and evaluate work through that prism. Blind submissions! Reform is needed!


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