Sunday, December 11, 2016

Meme: ESL Test Answer

Another stimulus from the internet. So two principles here:

First is, "you can't mark it wrong if it answers the question asked" so, the solution here is to you congratulate the student on her imagination and authenticity and then ask the student to read you the answer in English so you can tell if they have the concepts you were actually testing for. And then you ask her if she'd care to share the (translated) answer with the class because she probably has a better sense of the actual answer than you do, especially if she asked mom about the family's stories handed down from great-grandmother.

Second, it is a good reminder of an assessment technique to use with ESL students in your classroom (though in this case, the student was obviously bilingual since she is taking the exam in English): it's vital to give the ESL students in your class the opportunity for success. If they are constantly struggling to express themselves in English, the quality of their responses will obviously always be less sophisticated and more error-prone than their native-English peers. So, whenever possible when doing this sort of written assignment, get them to write it in their own language, and have their parent or another adult fluent in their language grade it for content. Because, if they're writing fabulous poetry in Chinese or Italian, you don't want to give them a grade in the poetry unit that says they don't understand poetry. That's just incorrect assessment. English Literature and social studies instructors can make good use of portfolio assessment strategies that allow for the inclusion in the portfolio of pieces in the student's own language, alongside pieces that show the students progress/improvement in writing in English. The inclusion of work in their own language is a huge moral booster for the student—that says, in effect, "I may not have mastered English yet, but I'm still a pretty damn good poet!"—which, if one's purpose is to teach kids an appreciation of poetry, is kind of the whole point of the exercise. Without occasional success and reinforcement, what we are teaching the student is that school is a horrible experience to be avoided whenever possible; that they are a failure at our subject— that poetry, or whatever is not for them; and that they are failures and unworthy generally. I don't know a lot of teachers who signed up so they could oppress and discourage kids, but I have met quite a few who think their job is to enforce English instruction to the point of tears and beyond. Yes, let's have assignments in English, but let's make sure we have some parallel assignments in their own language to remind the student—and frankly, to remind us, the instructors—that these are talented, motivated, and hard-working kids. The reason they only put two line answers to that essay question is that writing two lines in English took them as long and five times the effort as the native-English speaker who wrote three pages. Seeing their eight-page essay in Italian or page in Chinese (Chinese characters are words, remember) with an "B+" from their Uncle reminds everyone that this is not a lazy or inferior student.

It should go without saying that the native language assignments must be optional for the some point, asking a student to do any work in their mother tongue becomes the layering on of unnecessary additional work, which would be both dysfunctional and maybe a little racist. But it should remain an option in every teachers' toolbox.

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