Sunday, December 08, 2013

the final(s) week

This week represents the final time that I'll be with this crop of kids. Alas, it's also the final kick in the ass for them, as this upcoming week is final exam week.

I've got my exams written up, so I'm ready to go. I'll be seating the kids at the front of the room, three at a time, and giving them question sheets. Student A will pose a Round 1 question to Student B; B will answer, then pose a Round 1 question to Student C; C will answer, then pose a Round 1 question to Student A. This will continue up to Round 10. For the most part, I'll be focusing on the students' answers, although I might have to intervene if the question-posing student can't pronounce his or her question understandably (likely resulting in points docked for pronunciation). I don't want to penalize the respondent for misunderstanding a poorly pronounced question.

My grading rubric for the final is fairly simple. Each response is worth 10 points; with ten questions, that's a total of 100 possible points. 5 points will be for content; 3 points for structure (grammar, syntax, etc.); 2 points will be for pronunciation.

I've told my kids that I plan to be much stricter, this time around, about two things: (1) perfect pronunciation, and (2) length of responses. For the midterm, it was permissible for my kids to answer with a curt "Yes, I am" when asked, "Are you a student?" I've told them that, for the final, I'd like them to show their grammar knowledge by giving fuller responses: "Yes, I am a student." How many will be able to do this, I don't know. To score a perfect "2" for pronunciation, students will have to pronounce each syllable perfectly: they can't get away with saying chawchie for church, or saying obah dair for over there, or saying myujik for music, or saying oh-peh-rah for opera, or saying kickuri for quickly.

In looking over the point spreads for the recent listening test, I saw that many students' overall grades dropped precipitously because they fared poorly on that test. Given how many students scored highly on the midterm (a speaking test, not a listening test), I expect some final averages to go up thanks to the final exam, but because I'll be grading more strictly this time, they won't go up by that much. Obviously, I'm not interested in seeing my students fail although, unfortunately, there are one or two in each class who probably deserve an "F."

On the exam days this week, I'll be audio-recording my kids as well as photographing them so I can match faces to names (even after a semester, I still haven't memorized all 120 kids' names). Unlike with the midterm, the kids will be allowed to sit inside the class. They won't, however, have the advantage of hearing particular questions and anticipating them: I've typed up nine versions of the test for just that contingency.

I've tried to design the exam to (1) match the format of the midterm so as to provide evaluational consistency, and (2) cover every chapter in a cumulative manner. I'm hoping the students do well, but I worry that many of them simply don't yet have a good grasp of grammar. Grammar—the grammatically correct utterance—is so fundamental to speaking well, and I've never understood how leading lights in EFL/TESOL studies like Stephen Krashen (whom I otherwise respect and admire) can so cavalierly de-emphasize the need to teach grammar to students, this in the name of the abstract ideal of "oral proficiency." I've seen what sort of damage an "oral proficiency" curriculum can do to a student: he'll come out unafraid to verbalize, no doubt, but his utterances will all be incoherent crap: there will be dropped articles, poor tense control, horrendous subject/verb agreement, mangled conjugations, etc. Someone babbling happily and heedlessly away in fractured English is not, to my mind, demonstrating oral proficiency, no matter how torrential the babble. Quantity of verbiage is no substitute for quality.

I've done what I can to emphasize the importance of grammar in my classes. Grammar is like the bones in the human body: without the bones, the body is a shapeless mass, structureless and meaningless. Here's hoping my students show some grammatical mettle this week.


1 comment:

  1. Glad I'm not taking that test! I missed the question "are you a student" because I responded "why do you ask?"



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