Working hard but seemingly unappreciated
A colleague of mine was dumbfounded after getting back students’ evaluations of her class at the end of the term. One of the items on the evaluation form (which came from the college administration) was:
- My instructor returned checked homework to me ____________.
- a) always quickly b) sometimes quickly c) not quickly
All of her students circled (a) “always quickly” except two Japanese students who circled (c) “not quickly.” This confused not only her, but also the rest of us who knew that she was especially diligent about checking assignments and returning them the very next class.
Why was there this disconnect between these students’ perception and reality?
Many instructors want to not only point out errors on students’ papers but also encourage them with positive comments about what they did well. Unfortunately, it can take a lot of time writing out these comments with clear handwriting, and it involves mental energy trying to formulate what to say in a way that students can understand.
There is a method for indicating specifically what the student did well on any writing task, which takes little time on the part of the instructor and results in improved writing in the future.
“Other students have done it and so can you!” (Photo by Jakub Botwicz)
A very powerful tool for motivating your students is their belief that your course will help them develop their skills. Just giving them a syllabus at the start of a term with a list of goals for the course seems to have little effect on the level of confidence students will have. However, testimonies by previous students (your students’ peers) about how much your course has helped them can give your course a great deal of credibility.
Writing three drafts
An academic ESL writing instructor whom I was mentoring recently asked me how I dealt with the different drafts of essays. She was sure that students needed to write at least four or fives drafts, but she wasn’t sure how she should respond to each draft.
At some point in the writing process, the amount of time and energy that the students and instructor put into an essay outweighs the benefits. If our goal is to help students develop writing skills and to develop writing techniques, writing more than three drafts can be overkill. And “marking” more than one draft, can be a less-than-optimal use of time and energy by the instructor.
Showing frustration doesn’t help
One of the best pieces of advice that I received early in my teaching career came from a Japanese administrator. Over the years he had witnessed visiting American instructors showing their frustration with Japanese students vocally or through their body language. He said that with Asian students, these demonstrations can have the opposite effect of what the instructors were hoping for. According to him, only children or someone immature is unable to control their emotions, so the students will probably lose respect for the instructor.
I can say that in my 35-plus years of teaching international students, I’ve never been in a situation in which my only option was to show anger. This isn’t to say that I’ve never felt inside like screaming; I just know that nothing would have been gained by actually doing it.
My “never show anger” mantra was recently challenged by a student.