I learned an important lesson from one of my Writing class students. I originally thought that AJ was a pretty good writer, but the grammar on her second essay was a disaster. In class the next day, I showed her paper to her with all the grammar mistakes coded and asked her if she was surprised by them. With a look of embarrassment on her face, she said she wasn’t surprised because she hadn’t taken enough time to edit her paper.
This story about AJ is connected to a common myth about marking grammar on students’ papers: Students will feel discouraged if they see that they have a lot of grammar mistakes. Contrary to this myth, when I’ve asked students, “Do you want me to mark every grammar mistake on your essay or only the most serious errors?” I have found everyone has responded, “I want you to mark them all.”
(See Myth: Students Don’t Like to See Red Marks on Their Papers for more about my survey of students’ attitude.)
However, the idea of marking all the grammar mistakes can present a dilemma for us Writing teachers. Are we just enabling students like AJ by, in essence, becoming their personal editor when, in fact, they could have found the majority of those mistakes on their own had they taken the time to proofread the essay?
(See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills for more about marking students’ grammar mistakes more effectively.)
This is how my experience with AJ changed how I approach marking grammar on essays.
Why teachers’ brains tend to dwell on the “disruptive” students rather than on the “attentive” students after class. And what we can do about it.
I can have a class composed of 14 engaged students and two or three inattentive ones and guess whose faces I’ll see when I go to bed at night. Right, the “slackers.”
I was interested to discover that I’m not the only teacher who has this happen to them. This led me to try to understand the reason and investigate what to do about (in order to get a good night’s sleep.)
Why we tend to dwell on the troublesome ones and what to do about it.
“David, Please report to the Director’s office as soon as your class finishes. He needs to talk to you.” A program assistant handed me a note with those sentences on it. Gulp!
In the early 1980s, my wife and I, without much thought, accepted teaching positions on the Greek island of Lesbos. It was a Greek island, so what could possible go wrong?
It was a prep school that high school students attended in the late afternoons/evenings after high school to study English. Shortly after arriving, we met one of the teachers whom we were replacing. He told us that the school had a lot of discipline problems because many of the students didn’t want to be there. He said that the teacher-turnover was quite high as a result. In fact, a couple of teacher had just disappeared a few months earlier.
On the first day of class, as we walked down the hallway, we could see students literally chasing each other around the class rooms and jumping on the desks. My first class was with 16 tenth-grade students. Although most of the students paid little attention to me but instead continued to chat as I started the lesson, there were three female students sitting in the front row appearing eager to begin. Those three became the focus of my attention. Gradually, most of the others started to engage in the lesson, while a couple slept or doodled or looked out the window.
(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
This “tool” has helped me remain calm in many stressful teaching situations. Without this, I probably would have changed careers many years ago. I discovered this tool during my first month of teaching ESL when I was in Africa in the Peace Corps.
Here is what happened that first time in Africa. One day early in the term, I was conducting a lesson in a class of 35 students. Sitting in the front row were two popular students, Kato (the class president) and his best friend, Abdula. They were have a good time privately whispering and laughing while I was explaining the lesson. I could tell the other students had noticed them, so I knew I had to do something before the other students would start talking and I’d lose control of the class. Because Kato and Abdula were popular, I knew that I could alienate the other students if I didn’t handle this situation delicately. I could feel my stomach churning and blood pressure rising. Probably many teachers would have the same initial inclination that I had which would be to just tell them to stop talking. But what if I did that, and they continued talking? Then what could I do? I decided to not say anything right then and to think about it after class.