Better Than You

I’m having an argument with a student who rarely speaks.

Last week I expressed my displeasure at his having copied large sections of Wikipedia and presenting them as his daily personal journals. This has him pouting. He complained last week during the required “research what happens if you plagiarize” assignment, and he complained this week too.

This week involved him declaring he liked the other teachers at the school better (I would, too) and saying how he didn’t understand how I could possibly think that what he did was plagiarism. My profound response, written in the margins of his journal: “Because it was plagiarism.”

I also gave him some encouragement as my angry response has him questioning his plans to study in the USA. I told him to stick with it but that I can’t help him if he insists on presenting work that isn’t actually his work. The purpose of the journal isn’t to fill the pages, but to practice writing.

Sometimes, I try to be the good cop. Or at least I will, once I figure out what the good cop does other than offer a cigarette and a glass of water.

The Longer and The Shorter

One of the listening tests today was so short that those of us in the teachers’ room were afraid something was wrong. I had an immediate flashback to horrors from my own past. The other was so long I’m pretty sure students fell asleep before it was finished.

The test on my listening test will be somewhere in between, although this year I did add a lot of nonsense to it to confuse and befuddle the students. (More on that in a future post.)

I bring this up because a couple years ago a few members of the staff complained that students finished our tests too soon and that created some sort of problem for the test proctors. I personally ignored this as I can’t control how fast the students finish, especially if they’ve lived in an English speaking country or simply given up quickly.

People who are more diplomatic (and, oddly, more well liked by the staff) made an attempt to lengthen their listening tests by adding pauses or extra listening sections.

Each exam includes a listening portion and we write, perform, record, and edit the listening sections ourselves. This leaves it up to our own preferences and/or energy levels.

The results today were a listening test that was less than three minutes long and a second that was 18 minutes long. It also means the second year junior high listening will probably be more difficult than the second year high school listening. But, I consider that part of the fun.

Just This Once, With Feeling

She surprised everyone, especially her fellow students, at least for a few seconds.

I have a student in my Sunday class who does so little it almost seems as if she’s merely auditing the class, not actually taking it. Her English level is low enough that I’m pretty sure she’ll never get the test scores required to go to a university outside of Japan. She’s also a lot older than most of my students–let’s just say she’s a lady of a certain age.–and I’m not sure why she’s taking the class.

She’ll do class work, but I usually put her in a group of three so that two students have someone to talk to. Her partners often lose patience with her, and I have to remind them not to abandon her.

If she does speeches, she usually reads the speech instructions rather than reading speech.

Today, though, when she got up to the front, she read something resembling an actual self-introduction speech. It was only twenty-eight seconds long and she never looked up from her paper, which meant she only got a few points, but it was twenty seconds longer than any other speech she’s ever done and was actually on topic which means she got more points than she’s ever received before.

The rest of the class was surprised and she seemed satisfied. I just hope she does it again, as there are still two speeches to go.

A Foolish Randomness Helps Consistency

Sometimes a little randomness helps me be a more consistent marker.

As a rule, I’m usually kinder on the student works I read first and harder on those I read last. This is because by the time I reach the final students, I’m tired, cranky and well out of patience. The papers I read last suffer because of this.

Or, I’m kinder, gentler at first and at the end when I’m rushing to finish, but brutal on those who fall in the middle.

To avoid this I try to read student works in a random order. This gives everyone a chance at the kinder, gentler me.

That said, I’ve also begun reading the worst students first. I’ve found that what destroys my momentum and energy when I’m marking a lot of stuff is suddenly stumbling across a piece of bad writing. I lose patience and that poisons me for all the work that follows. It also slows me down as I take out my frustrations on the next few pieces of writing.

Eventually, though, i’m done. Then I do feel kinder and gentler.

Closing it All Out

The students phoned it in and I pretty much only sent a message myself. That’s the best way to describe the last day of the term.

My Friday classes are all junior high school. Because the school where I work splits regular English and my class, the students perceive that my class doesn’t have a final mark which, int their minds, means they don’t have to study much. In fact our classes represent a percentage of their final English score, but the students realize that no one fails so they tend to worry about other classes. Granted, they don’t fail those either, but at least those get a final mark and are conducted in Japanese.

The highlights were a student asking what units where on the final exam. I reminded him that I’d told him all about that last class. He admitted he hadn’t written it down. I told him that wasn’t my problem. He then asked if there was a long writing. I told him that there was and that he was supposed to have written a practice draft the week before after I told him about the final exam. He admitted he no longer had the paper. I told him that wan’t my problem.

Luckily he didn’t ask anymore questions and I was able to focus on properly doing nothing.

Good Cop Bad Copy

To my students’ credit, no one seems to have plagiarized their assignment on plagiarism. They did, however, have some interesting interpretations of what they were expected to do.

As for me, I played bad cop by giving them a stern lecture about plagiarism, and then played good cop by giving them an easy activity and letting it all drop. In short, in a reverse-Roadhouse, I was not nice, until it was time to be nice.

The student whose actions triggered the assignment, was caught between playing dumb (I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to copy word for word) and being mad at me for being a jerk (in his defense, the role of bad cop requires one be a jerk). His journal entry had some bad English, but at least it was his English.

Pretty soon it’ll once again be time to not be nice. Right about the time I give them a speech assignment.


More of the Same

A placeholder tonight as nothing of importance happened today except things very much like things that happened yesterday.

My bad higher level class was bad. My lower level class wasn’t quite as bad. My worst students in my high school class were bad.

The only funny thing was in my high school class. My worst students were third in line for their presentation but rather than prepare for it (it helps to practice even though they don’t have to memorize it) they were doing homework from other classes.

When I called their number the moseyed up to the front and then 1) couldn’t figure out who was speaking first or 2) what order their pictures were supposed to be in. I sent them off to get their s#!t together.

One student realized that thanks to his partners he was about to fail and managed to salvage something  resembling a presentation by playing stage manager. Unfortunately he’s right. He is going to fail because of this partners. That’s one of the rules of the assignment.

Things Expected and Unexpected Things

What happened first wasn’t that surprising. What happened later was.

As predicted, the noise and inattentiveness of two classes inspired me to stop talking about the final exam. Instead I passed out an assignment and said “good luck”. Later I helped the students who actually seemed interested in passing.

I also sent three students back and forth between their desks and my desk until they actually completed their homework. (Long story.)

Then, this evening, as I was grading daily journals written by my university students, I realized that one of my students wrote well enough that he could have been an editor for Wikipedia. Actually, given that his “handwritten journal” matched a Wikipedia entry word for word, I suspect he might already be a Wikipedia editor. Or is it adopter?

Either way, all the students are now required to look up the word “plagiarism” and explain what will happen to them if they try that in the USA.

The trap is that I expect most of them to plagiarize the entry, which will lead to a teachable moment.


They Have Ears but Do Not Listen and I Don’t Care

The best part about the last week of school is that most class time is spent reviewing or finishing projects which means I don’t have a lot of prep work to do. The students like it because I don’t mind letting them fail.

For junior high school, I typically discuss the material that’s on the exam and give students a version of the long writing question on the exam to practice. One third of the class works on it; one third pretends to work on it but ekes out only one badly written sentence; and one third plays, talks or sleeps.

I just let everyone do what they want. I’m not taking the exam and if someone doesn’t write the essay/long writing, it saves me time and energy.

I’ve mentioned before how, in the past, I’ve stopped explaining the details of what to study when it was clear that most of the class wasn’t listening. In the worst case, I erased what I’d already written and wished them luck. Later I gave the information to the few students who were actually interested in passing and suggested they share with other students.

With high school we’re finishing up final projects and that means there are lots of excuses and pleading. Students are also prone to take 15-20 minutes toilet breaks. (As these are usually my worst students, I just let them go and don’t chase them down.) The last class is usually spent reviewing the term’s material, but I see students doing math or other classes. I also see students sleeping.

Once again, I encourage them to enjoy themselves. Tests that add up to “0” are really really easy to mark.

Last Week Long Week

We’re gearing up for the last week of the term. That means anything that can go wrong probably will. Even if it doesn’t, all hell breaks loose.

The last week of the term is marked by a number of key things that often cause more trouble than they are worth: Finishing exams and chasing down students.

For the former, we have to make the exams, including the listening scripts, and then record, edit and burn the listening files. Traditionally I waste two CDs in the process of doing this. Somewhere along the way, everyone has to approve the text of the exam and, even then, once exams are in student hands, we find a mistake.

For the latter, chasing down students, this applies mostly to getting students to finish their final projects for their high school second year classes. If they don’t do it, they get the lowest possible for score for the term and have to take a make up exam. As it is, I’ve got a student who’s two speeches behind and has already earned zeros on them. I expect I’ll see him at the make up exams.

That leads to the final problem: making make up exams and figuring out the process involved with getting information to the students. It’s complicated. (Actually, it’s not, but I always get something wrong each time I have to do a make up exam.)

After all that, we get the written exams in hand and things get really crazy.