Tuesday, May 27, 2014

pronunciation class: lessons learned, and thoughts on testing

Things I've learned while teaching my first-ever full-length pronunciation class:

1. Don't overthink how to grade. Don't create overly complex formulae to calculate student grades according to how much they've progressed—not unless you're a math wizard.

2. Give prompt reactions to student homework. Students need feedback, and the feedback for each student doesn't need to take more than a minute.

3. Place more emphasis on syllable stress. Many Koreans mispronounce words by placing stress on the wrong syllables.

4. Do more games. Students like games, and pronunciation is a very game-friendly subject.

Thus far, I've had several students tell me that the course has been helpful to them. I was also impressed by the improvement I saw from the diagnostic test to the midterm: most of the students improved, on average, by 10-15 points; they had become a lot more conscious of their pronunciation. Unfortunately, the class's grade landscape must be forced to conform to a curve, which means I can't give as many "A"s as I'd like: only a certain percentage can receive "A"s and "B"s. This means I have to design a final exam that will be an order of magnitude more difficult than both the diagnostic and the midterm; this will lower some students' grades and force the class into the curve. I don't like doing that, mainly because I think major exams should follow a consistent format that allows students to track their progress from test to test. Think of it this way: if you're training soldiers to fight, it's weird to give them a krav-maga midterm followed by a final exam on French fencing. Be that as it may, I can't have as many "A"s as I currently do, and rather than artificially knocking random students down a few pegs at the end of the semester, I'd rather redistribute grades through a proper test, even if the test's format will be significantly different from what has gone before.


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