Carl Robertson: The Mad Scientist of Texas
Wednesday, August 01, 2018 by Carl Falsgraf
Despite his doctorate in comparative literature, Carl Robertson is a scientist at heart. He is always conducting experiments on his Chinese program at Southwestern University in Texas.
“Every year, I have at least one pedagogic objective I focus on,” he says. “Maybe a technique or a new set of materials.”
And how does he know if these innovations are working or not?
“STAMP is the reality check. Everything I do is measured against STAMP.”
Student proficiency scores are the dependent variable in his never-ending experiments in how to improve his program.
This information is especially important because Carl is the only Chinese language faculty member, so collegial feedback is hard to come by.
Carl was an early adopter of STAMP and now has eleven years of student performance data laid out in a colorful chart. A steadily climbing red line indicates that overall student performance has improved about one proficiency sub-level over the years.
One of the first things he learned from STAMP data is that he needed to supplement his textbook.
This first experiment was a rousing success, as evidenced by the steep upward slope of his chart those first few years.
Another successful innovation was giving students regular dictation practice as homework. “This really helped students visually map sounds into Chinese characters,” he explains. He knows this to be true because the lines on his chart once again showed a noticeable uptick.
The beauty of doing the analysis himself is that he can apply local context to the interpretation. “Our scores dropped in 2017,” he says, “but I wasn’t worried. I knew it was because I started strictly enforcing the policy that every student had to take STAMP. In previous years, some lower performing students skipped it, which artificially inflated the average.”
After that temporary blip, 2018 scores are up again, as predicted.
The humanist in him comes up with new ideas every year. Then the scientist in him checks his latest leap of pedagogic intuition against proficiency data.
Next year’s objective is to pay closer attention to individual student needs; to differentiate instruction. When he gets his student proficiency reports from Avant next spring, he will know how effective this new emphasis has been.
“STAMP is now in the DNA of the program,” he says. “Everything I do is aimed at — and measured by — student proficiency scores.”