Saturday, June 18, 2011

Measure Your Progress

The first period of the first day of my first class ever in high school career was Geometry. And on that first day, the geometry teacher gave us an interesting way to earn extra credit. If you tracked and calculated your grades (assignment, quiz, and test performance) you would get bumped up one level for your final grade. A B+ would turn into an A- or a C- would turn into a C and so forth.

Now, part of the motivation for this was that you calculating your own grade is a trick for you to do some algebra, because assignments, quizzes, and tests each made up a certain portion of your overall grade. But the other thing it did was give you a way to always know where you stood. And this is important. If you are trying to get somewhere, it helps to know where you are at so you know how far you need to go, how well you need to do, and so forth. Similar to what Peter Drucker said, "What gets measured gets managed." Similarly, if you can measure it, you can manage it.

If I'm sitting at a B and it's halfway through the semester, I can figure out how well I have to do going forward in order to get my grade up to an A by the end of the course. Knowing where I'm at helps me see the destination and gives me an actionable plan.

So what does this have to do with Summer Greek? Read below the fold.

If you are in Summer Greek, you are covering a ton of territory in just ten weeks. And they (both your professor and Dr. Voelz) dump more and more on you every day. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, like it's all too much, that it's unmanageable, you're never going to get there, etc. And it's especially when you are working with something that seems qualitative, not quantitative. How do you measure how much Greek you know?

But if you can measure and visualize your progress, this helps you make better sense of where you are and where you are heading. If you can visualize your standing, that can help you manage your progress going forward, help you fix something you might not have otherwise noticed was a problem (or to the degree that it was a problem). On the other hand, it can also help squash negative misconceptions you had. If you thought you were hopelessly bad in a certain area, but you look at your data and realize it's not anywhere near as bad as you thought it was, that is also be to your benefit.

So, as a Koine Greek student, what can you measure? I think that vocab words is an easy and obvious one. Earlier this year, I set a challenge for myself to learn one new Greek word everyday for thirty days. I failed, for reasons that are outside of the scope of this blog post, but take a look at this chart:

Now, I cheated a little bit because I've officially tried Greek twice before (once in college and once in Seminary), so the words weren't NEW. But you can see that after four weeks, I had not just learned but also retained 140 words. I think that SEEING how much you have accomplished can help give you a psychological push to keep going, that seeing how you've been doing will help you at least maintain that momentum if not increase it. It's like if you did 15 minutes on the treadmill yesterday, you decide to do 16 today. If you can measure it, you can manage it, and you can motivate yourself to do more than you did the day before. (And if you're on the treadmill, you should be studying your flashcards, anyway, right?)

If you want to see the raw data of how I organized my vocab challenge, just click here for the Google spreadsheet.

At the very least, repeat my example and daily track the progress of your vocab retention. You don't have to turn it into a chart (though that is both fun and helpful), but keep track of the data. The picture that the data paints is often different than the story you tell yourself. And the data is usually more true to reality.

What else could you measure to better manage your Summer Greek experience? And it doesn't have to be limited to things that are already quantified like the number of flashcards you know cold, and it doesn't have to be limited to what's happening in the classroom. You could take inventory of your mood. If you track your mood (there are others, I just gave that link as one example) and look at how your mood changes over a span of time, that could help you see what your state of mind is, spot trends you didn't realize were there... and make adjustments accordingly. If you want to do a little extra reading, here are five reasons to track your mood.

So, what will you measure?