Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Just when you thought they might pass...

By Kevin

Here are a few examples of actual test answers I got today and yesterday (I just listed a few of the more absurd ones - these were chosen from a box of possible fill-in-the blank answers. Otherwise, I suspect they would have left it completely blank or created even more random offerings):
  • The largest city in Scotland: Buddhists, Scottish
  • This many people died or left Ireland from 1841 to 1851, as a result of the Great Potato Famine: Protestants, King Peter, Sinn Fein, England, German
  • The political party of the IRA: King Arthur, Buddhists, Chaucer, Scotland
  • Believe that the Pope speaks with the authority of Christ, as his representative on earth: Emily Bronte, Old English, Chaucer, Buddhists
  • Believe that they have direct access to God through prayer and study of the Bible:India, Buddhists
  • "Beowulf" was written in which language? England
  • The 2006 peace treaty reached by the British and Irish governments for Northern Ireland: London, Cardiff, Japan, German
  • This country was once part of the British empire, but is now independent: England
  • Robbed from the rich and gave to the poor: Catholics, Sinn Fein, Gaelic, Glasgow, Northern Ireland
  • Fictional king known for knights of the Round Table and pulling the sword from the stone: Buddhists, Japan
  • Wrote "Hamlet:" Cardiff
  • Wrote "Pride & Prejudice:" King Arthur
  • Wrote "The Canterbury Tales:" King Arthur, Robin Hood
  • Wrote "A Tale of Two Cities:" Protestants, Sinn Fein
  • Labeled map of England as USA and its capital as Walta hood.
  • Another labelled the Republic of Ireland as Germany (which wasn't on the map, by the way, it was just the UK and Ireland), then went on to call the capital of Wales "Berlin."
  • Capital of England: Catholics, Sinn Fein, The Weald
  • Capital of Scotland: Buddhists, Virgire, Catholics, Beacons
  • Capital of Wales: Buddhists
  • Capital of Northern Ireland: Magna Carta, Gaelic
As much as I wish this was an April Fool's Joke, it isn't. I'm extremely frustrated. I just got done grading exams for my "Society and Culture of Major English Speaking Countries" class. One class of 48 students down (minus a couple absences), three to go. So far, the rundown: 0As, 5Bs, 4 Cs, 8Ds, 31Fs. Actually, if I were to break it down into increasing letters for every 10 percent, it'd be 9 solid Fs (50-59%), 9 Gs (40-49%), 5 Hs (30-39%), and a whopping 7 Is -- yes, seven people scored between 20 and 30 percent on this exam.

I feel like a horrible, terrible, sorry excuse for a teacher. I've never been in a class in which 2/3 of us failed any exam. And I didn't even give anyone a zero for cheating like I usually would (clearly it didn't matter if most of them cheated - the person next to each of them had a completely different version of the test). And, going into the exam, I thought I made it easy. I told them what to study. I even gave them a study guide and notes to work with, since I figured that a large percentage couldn't understand the finer details when I speak. I even lifted numerous exact questions from earlier quizzes.

I had a hunch that they were bad students, but this is a little unbelievable. Even if I were to curve it so that the highest score (an 88%) got 100%, that'd only bring the 9 Fs up into the realm of Ds.

But since someone did manage to do that well, that means that someone learned something, doesn't it?

I can't decide. Is it because their English is that bad? Maybe they simply don't understand anything I say and can't handle the reading.

My hunch, however, is that most of them simply aren't good students. After all, they are all on the 3-year track here (something like an associates degree). Very few will move on to the 4-year track (if you pass enough tests you can become a 4-year student -- however one must study for two more years...kinda complicated). In fact, one student in that class said that only 3 were even trying to earn the 4-year degree. Apathy. So perhaps, when I assign a reading, the reason they groan is that they know they won't really read the 15 pages I'd assigned for the week (or at least won't read AND study them). The odd thing is that usually Chinese students are good at memorizing things. It seems like this content-heavy course should be right up their alley. Apparently it isn't.

How much grace can I give them? What am I saying if I pass these kids? Will they think that they actually learned anything about these countries (answering 20 questions out of 65 correctly makes me think they just guessed right). What am I saying if I fail them all? Will it make the school lose face? As glad as I was to have a chance to teach something other than Oral English, I'm rethinking that. Maybe I should just show them movies about the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada from here on out.


Nate and Molly said...

I can empathize with you as a teacher. It's incredibly frustrating when students perform so poorly--especially when you thought you were making things clear and easy to study for them. I don't have any words of advice, but I do understand the feeling---it's one of the worst parts about teaching (and thank goodness there are rewarding moments to balance them!)

Anna said...

I feel somewhat better about my test in... 7 hours that I've been studying for and still feel like I know almost nothing. At least I'm putting effort into it. =)

Clay said...

Wow!! My exam last term was failed by about 11, after your post I'm really enouraged. I taught the culture class too. I did grade on the curve and I did fail students. Much to my dismay, my school has a rule that if you fail, you can have a make up the test next term. Too many chances in my opinion. This term the goal is to get the students to show up for class. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin,

I taught British and American culture class 3 years ago and had a similar situation - I could email you more info if you are interested. I'm not sure if your questions were structured the same way on your test as on your blog but if they were I have some hunches on why they wrote some of the crazy answers (though not all). Let me know if you want help. Blessings and Jiayou!

Kevin said...

Thanks for the encouragement. Sarah, I'd love any ideas you might have to offer. Unfortunately, I don't think I have your current email address.

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