Monday, 20 April 2009

Turn-up for the books

"No Miss. I don't deserve it."

I've never had a student argue for a lower mark before, but it happened today.

The student's reason was not having done as well as expected (as expected by both of us, frankly) in this assessment.

I thought the mark I gave was fair (well, naturally I would think that) and, true, it would have been good for some students but was rather disappointing for this one, who is normally excellent.

It's an odd reaction, but it reminds me of going into my university exam in Anglo Saxon thinking that I hadn't prepared hard enough and really deserved to fail (actually I did OK - not great, but OK). But part of me felt I deserved to do much much worse.

Seems to me there are two issues here. One is the basic feeling that performance and result, or effort and result, should match up, which most teachers (and students) would agree is a Good Thing generally.

Now, while performance should match result (in a sense the performance is the result) it isn't necessarily true that effort matches result. I have known students who speak virtually like native speaking teenagers but made no attempt to learn anything more since leaving their English-medium high schools, and I have known many students who valiantly struggled to improve from a very low base, and who made it to a high level of achievement.

The other issue is what the criteria for success or failure are.

When I went in to translate some bits of Anglo Saxon poetry my personal criteria was to produce a good English poem which would catch the meaning and some of the spirit of the original. Fat chance: I was nowhere within a million miles of that sort of ability or knowledge - but what I had managed was clearly good enough for the examiners to give me a creditable pass. (I still feel that wasn't good enough, but it may now be too late to go back and try to out-Seamus Heaney Seamus Heaney).

My student's criteria for success seems to be, to be able to express her ideas clearly, 100% accurately and (very important to her, this) in a totally original and amusing way.

This, needless to say, is way beyond the exam criteria.

But it is absolutely lovely to have a student who has that kind of approach.

This is the student who called me over during a reading exam and pointed to a sentence in the text. My heart sank, as I was sure she was going to ask me for help - which of course I would have to refuse. Instead she said "Miss, I LIKE this sentence." Two days later she could still recite it by heart.

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