Monday, January 26, 2009

Get a Job

In the ASCD newsletter, there is a posting for this job (complete job description is reprinted at the end of this post). It's a good job for someone with the required qualifications. Back in my CTB days, when I was a program manager, I worked with the Department of Defense Education Activity, and I must say that everyone there was lovely to work with. Anyway, I hate to see a good job going to waste, especially one with a reasonable salary and excellent benefits, so please pass this on to anyone who might be interested.

News of jobs do often come round my way, so I'll make it a habit to post'em as I get'em. If you hear of a job that's not right for you, but that is too good to let slip away, send it in.

Additional Duty Location Info: 1 vacancy - Arlington, VA
- Provides authoritative advice and guidance to DoDEA senior officials on all matters related to development, planning and implementation of the program areas to which assigned.
- Plans, organizes, and conducts a wide variety of studies and analyses designed to identify needs, develop justifications, and prepare implementation procedures for general and specific educational program requirements, usually of a critical nature.
- Formulates plans and provides managerial expertise regarding all aspects of staff operations.
- Provides program evaluation and analysis services for new, proposed or existing initiatives.
- Through subordinate supervisors and program managers who also exercise leadership responsibilities, plans, prioritizes, and prepares schedules for the completion of work.
- Identifies, facilitates, and monitors the resolution of problems, concerns, and issues involving education services provided by headquarters and a variety of other providers.
- Through subordinate supervisors and program managers who also exercise leadership responsibilities, plans, prioritizes, and prepares schedules for the completion of work.
- Develops, coordinates, and integrates educational programs, goals and other activities within and among the branches of the Education Directorate.
- In coordination with subordinates, develops goals, benchmarks, strategies, and a framework for the assigned program areas including those that support the National Education Goals and the Department of Education's Career pathways.
- Approved as a Contractor Officer's Representative (COR). Monitors the quality of program services to ensure compliance with professional quality assurance standards.
-Performs a full range of supervisory duties for both intermediate supervisors and non supervisory employees.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why I Love Writing for NGEE

This weekend I had that experience that brings joy to all writers, that of seeing my name in print. There is my byline in nice big letters in the January issues of both National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Extreme Explorer. I've written four articles for National Geographic Extreme Explorer, at which publication the editors are extremely likable. Extremely likable, and extremely good editors.

Where I come from, educational assessment and curriculum publishing, there's not a lot of editing (of stories and articles, anyway) for the sake of art and language. There is editing to get your word count, and editing to achieve a target readability, and editing to make sure the vocabulary is appropriate to the grade level. Before working with the NGEE editors, I'd been accustomed to writing my piece, turning it in, and getting paid. Once in a rare while, an editor might want this or that minor change to accommodate this or that project specification (or client preference or even whim), and of course I would make such changes with nary a grumble, but I was unused to revising according to direction.

Of course I revised on my own. I wrote and revised, wrote and revised, drank a glass of wine, slept on it, and revised again. Revising according to editorial direction is a whole nother matter. It takes a good editor, and by that I mean not just someone who edits well, but someone who is capable of clearly expressing his or her vision of the final piece, and making specific suggestions about what should be added, deleted, or changed to create that vision. Someone who can express and suggest in such a way that does not encourage the writer to curl up into a little ball of snottification and anxiety, as writers are sensitive souls and prone to weeping and moaning and gnashing of teeth.

And then the editor does even more magic before the issue goes to print, with the result that when I see my story, I hardly recognize it, because it is so much better than it was before.

Dear NGEE editors, I am your big fan.

UPDATE: Fixed a typo. If only I had the luxury of a good editor for ALL my writing. Blogs. Emails. Etc.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Green Grass

I like to say that self-employment has ruined me for corporate work. After having been the mistress of my domain for lo, these many years (8?), I doubt my ability to shed the pajamas, don the pantyhose, and kowtow to upper management (and there is always going to be a management Upper Than Thou, no matter how high the monkey climbs on the tree).

Like much of what I say, though, it's a joke. Sometimes I consider the prospect of employment with longing, say, when I am paying for my own doctor visits or when I get my 401k statement in the mail, or even when I feel unbearably lonely clicking away on the keyboard by myself all day.

The benefits of working for a company extend beyond the medical, dental, vision, and retirement plans. Consorting with others--especially smart, likable, cooperative others--can be very pleasant. Sharing responsibilities can ease one's mind. Being able to finish one's day and walk away from the office may be preferable to having one's office at home and knowing that there is always some task calling out to one.

And this discussion would be incomplete without an acknowledgment of the current economic landscape. Lay-offs have been legion through the holidays; unemployment rates are higher than they have been in decades. If one is fortunate enough to be offered a job when so many others are losing theirs, doesn't it seem akin to ingratitude to turn down the offer? And doesn't the offer appear all the more appealing?

It's worth thinking about, in any case, and not just in a "is the grass greener over there?" kind of way. In fact, at least two of my fellow free-lancers are thinking about going back through that gate, and if they do, I must say that I will think about it even more.

Besides, in terms of thinking about one's work, I like adopting a flexible approach. Be self-employed for a while, see how that works for you. Sure, take that job that calls out to you because you heed the siren's call of benefits/more money/steady paychecks/collaboration/more variety. Try it on, see how it feels, and if it doesn't work, the pajamas aren't going anywhere.

CORRECTION: I said that unemployment rates were higher than they had been in decades, but that was inaccurate. The unemployment rate is actually higher than it has been in 16 years.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

But Is It Art?

A couple of years ago, I spent an entire month writing stories, articles, and poems for a shelf product for a company that shall remain nameless. What could be more fun than that? With the poems, I amused myself by choosing different forms in which to write. The children who later read the poems had no idea they were reading a villanelle or a poem in terza rima, but the discipline of a strict form gave me license to be more creative with both content and language.

There's a kind of beauty in rigor and discipline; you can see this in any creative endeavor, including item writing. I've seen items that were elegant in their simplicity and adherence to the demands of the form. Following all the rules doesn't make for a perfect item--even a flatly literal basic recall item may be written perfectly, and yet be a bad item. But it's impossible to be ignorant of (or ignore) the rules and write a good item.

That having been said, when you have completely mastered the rules, you may want to break one or two once in a while, for a specific purpose. The catch is, of course, that the flouting of the rule must be intentional and purposeful, or it just looks like what it is: a mistake.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Poetry of Item Alignment

When I was an associate editor at CTB McGraw-Hill, back in the day, we editors were all a little grateful for the seasonal winter slowdown. It gave us time to catch our breath, file the stacks that had piled up during bluelines, and reacquaint ourselves with our co-workers. Now that I have been self-employed lo, these many years, I like to keep busy--whatever the time of year. Summer, winter, don't make no never mind to me. Idle hands are the devil's workshop.

Just before Christmas, I was doing a bit of writing, some for National Geographic Extreme Explorer, and some for ETS. (When the NGEE article comes out, I'll be sure to let you know. The other is, of course, confidential.) Then my attention was directed to alignments. Or correlations. The two terms are often used interchangeably; both mean identifying the standard (performance indicator, objective, skill, subskill) assessed or targeted by a specific item or task.

The best case scenario in content development is to write the item or task to a standard. That process is more creative, more organic, in the sense that the item or task may be developed to meet the demands of the standard. But many companies find themselves with a bank or pool of perfectly sound items, and to recycle these items for multiple projects is both efficient and cost-effective.

Alignments can be tricky. Sometimes items are shoehorned into standards that are an obvious bad fit. New aligners are especially prone to falling prey to aligning by key word, which is a big mistake. When aligning, it's imperative to keep in mind the spirit of the law, as opposed to the letter of the law. Think about the task and what the task requires that the student know or do, then review the standards (performance indicators, objectives, skills, subskills), and select the one that cleaves unto those knowledge and skill requirements. There may be more than one; there often is a lot of overlap. If no skill fits, better not to force the fit. How can a bad alignment result in meaningful measurement of skill or knowledge?

What I've noticed in reviewing others' alignments is that I can get a sense not only of the breadth and depth of the aligner's content knowledge, but of the aligner's intuitive feel for the content area (and for language use in general)--of the aligner's capacity for understanding subtle nuance. In a way, it really is like reading poetry.

Which may sound ridiculous, and it would be, if we were discussing a simple skill, such as "Use end punctuation correctly."