June 15, 2005

No test, please!

Isn't it odd that in a class where I only recently chose a textbook, classes were more fun and interactive when I had NO textbook than they are now. Why should that be?

It is slowly dawning on me that an English class without some clear performance goals (i.e. students must demonstrate a certain level of linguistic competence), the daily routine of class becomes meaningless; we become like a ship without a rudder. (We? OK, let it pass.)

So I'm looking to create similar performance/competence goals in other classes as well.

In the classes where I only recently chose the textbook, I quickly realized that me standing at the front and "conducting" the class like an orchestra, or like a drill-sergeant on the parade ground, take your pick of similes, was really a wsste of resources. So for the last 2 weeks I've been simply writing the list of activities on the board: Unit so-and-so, page so-and-so, activity #, then activity #..., then (etc.) Actually writing this up on the board was a huge favour I did them, seeing as I'd already spent precious sweat and tears posting these very same activities on the class blog.

Having posted the day's activities on the board, I quickly flipped through the textbook looking for actual examples of tasks I could set as goals, together with examples or models from the textbook. It was very hard. After 10 minutes I only managed to locate 4 tasks. Obviously the textbook is geared more towards busy work than actual linguistic performance.

Anyway, after this hard slog I needed a well-earned breather: what are my charges up to? Hmm, most of them have the textbook open in front of them. (To those who don't): "Where's your textbook?" "Forgot it." "Hm. So, what are you going to do?" After a few seconds, they poke the guy in front in the ribs and demand to borrow his textbook. Those that do have the textbook, what are they up to? Most of the activities I had listed were dialogues and speaking exercises. Straining my ears (and I have 20/20 hearing) I could detect the dulcet tones of the Japanese language, but of the language of Shakespeare's birthplace, not a peep. Stooping menacingly over a couple of gentle maidens near the front and flicking up my cool shades for dramatic effect, I ask them what they are doing: no answer, but I can see they are writing, and my memory tells me .... they are doing last week's homework. Duh. Obviously. Like, with no shouted instructions from the conductor's podium, or threat of a "test", like they're actually going to embarrass themselves with actually trying to speak English! And with each other! Obviously the safest thing to do, while still maintaining the appearance of actually doing something, is writing exercises, namely, the homework assignment (which no-one had done anyway, also obviously; what planet are you from, teacher? This is the Land of Wa, aka the Land of No Homework).

OK. Breathe deeply. Count to Ju. Ah! A hand is raised. I tootle over. "What kind of test will you be giving us?" Aha! I was thinking the very same thing! "Well, let's see now; what kind of test would you like?"

"Well, personally" (I can't remember exactly what words she used, but my memory tells me it was something to the effect of "us", i.e. if it's up to the students), "we don't need/want a test, but if you insist then I guess some kind of writing test, fill-in-the-blanks kind of thing like we're doing here now in the textbook. But really I think the best thing would be to base the grade on attendance."

Aha! My theories proved right! It's not about learning anything, or developing any kind of ability; it's all just about getting the credits in order to graduate.

"I don't like that" I blurt out. Should I insist on my own way? I decide to see how many others think the same way. I tell them my opinion: If the purpose of this class is to develop some actual communicative ability, then it makes sense (to me at any rate) to have a communicative test, an opportunity for you to show to me (and yourselves) what you can do with the language, assuming you're in this class in order to actually learn to do things with the language. BUT, before deciding on this, I'd like to know what you all think, so write me your opinion either on paper or by email by next Monday (June 20th).

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