Tuesday, 21 June 2011

'But my teacher have said me...'

The young lady with whom I share responsibility for Group 4 accosted me yesterday lunchtime. ‘I don’t want to worry you,’ she said, ‘but…’

You are going to anyway.

‘Well, you know group 4, right? They think all they have to do is paraphrase the sources.’

Oh, fuck.

Let me explain. For the writing component on the present course the students must produce a thousand words on emotional stress and three specific methods to combat it, all based on a pack of info from a variety of books, journals and web pages provided for their reference. From these they may cull direct quotes and paraphrases to back up their own ideas on the topic. Somewhere along the line the scary bit about their own ideas has got lost, and now they’ve formulated the comforting notion that they need only excerpt and reword odds and sods from the source material to sew together into a thousand-word Frankenstein’s Monster. There’s never enough time to devote to all the strands of any course, and this time round I have hammered writing at the expense of reading because writing just bloody baffles everybody so much. After loads of discussion of the source material aimed at helping them to own the ideas, it seems I have only succeeded in baffling them the more.

My ten days off the rails has given me some insight into how they probably feel about writing. Every lesson I taught for two weeks felt like the first lesson of my career, as if I were a rookie who kept forgetting things and couldn’t think straight for sheer bloody funk. Many of the students won’t write a second sentence until I have checked their first one, or a third until I’ve checked the second, and so on. ‘Just bloody write it, for Christ’s sake’ I say, politely, ‘then we can tidy it up. For is it not written, no point wiping your arse before you’ve shat?’

Well, honestly.

Student - me exchanges such as the following are common around this time of year:

‘Introduction, how long should be?’

Piece of string, how long should be?

‘How many word can be in a paraphrase?’

As many as you need to back up your own view, bearing in mind there’s a thousand word limit and most of the language needs to be from you. Measure by eye, not weight.

‘Fifferty? Sickersty? Seffenty?’

Please refer to my previous response.

‘I can say about my obinion in the introduction?’


‘My other teacher have said me, to don’t say about my obinion in the introduction.’

She was right, I’m lying.

‘I can say about my obinion or no?’

So long as you can back it up.

‘I can say ‘I think’ for my obinion in a issay?’

Yes, if you want.

‘My other teacher have said me, to don’t say ‘I think’ for my obinion in a issay.’

So don’t say it, then.

‘Who right?’

Me. I've got the dick. Settled.

Actually that last part of this kind of exchange is never necessary – it’s simply assumed that being a man, I’m right, even if I’m not.

Look, folks, I try to tell them, I really wish there was a formula I could give you instead of what sound to you just now like arbitrary and contradictory rules, but there ain’t. If there were, you’d never find your own voice. Yes, you need to find your own voice. You exercise critical thinking skills in so many areas of your life, and here, we expect you to do that in class, in contrast with certain cultures represented here where they really, really don’t want that kind of thing going on. Resign yourselves to not making a terribly good job of this essay, then learn from the feedback.

‘I don’t want to worry you, but…’

You bloody well have! I’ve only got two teaching days to clear all this up, and as always, I feel it’s my fault that they’ve all got the wrong end of the bloody stick. I’ll just have to count on the strong likelihood that they will all be thinking it’s theirs.


Nik_TheGreek said...

Νομίζω ότι έχεις ήδη αναφέρει για διαφορές στη κουλτούρα και τον τρόπο διδασκαλίας. Απ'ότι φαίνεται τους φαίνεται πάρα πολύ δύσκολο να δουλέψουν χωρίς συγκεκριμένες και αυστηρές οδηγίες. Δεν τους είναι εύκολο να πάρουν πρωτοβουλίες και αποφάσεις. Χρειάζονται σαφήνεια και αυστηρότητα...
Υπομονή... Τι να πώ;

Vilges Suola said...

That's true but they have to learn fast - English for Academic Purposes is pretty unforgiving, as you haven't got time to 'ease into it'. As I said, they will have to make a mess of this first attempt and then pick up the pieces before they start the next one next month. Den exei ellinhka grammata o ypologisths aftos, exafanisthkan...

Fionnchú said...

"Emotional stress" as a topic for already stressed students: what bureaucrat (uh, "educator") invented that essay prompt? Write what you know, indeed.

Vilges Suola said...

For the last two years, the topic was 'Motivation'. I don't know why it was changed - I certainly wasn't consulted.Anyway, they have to describe and evaluate 'Hardiness Training', prescription drugs and some other technique whose name escapes me. Not a bad task, really - they are given a manageable number of authentic sources, and... a real experience of stress.

ydnacblog said...

Eish - as we say in South Africa - sounds totally hideola. I have completely fallen off my teaching perch of late and if I had to even ATTEMPT this, I would run around in circles as if my hair was on fire. There is something about the relentlessness of it all taht has made me tremble in fear that "I'm doing it all wrong." What if I AM?

Vilges Suola said...

I'm marking the finished essays right now. One thing I definitely didn't get through to them is that they must not assume the reader already knows what they are talking about. I am thinking of having a rubber stamp made with 'DEFINE' on it.

Vilges Suola said...

I'm marking the finished essays right now. One thing I definitely didn't get through to them is that they must not assume the reader already knows what they are talking about. I am thinking of having a rubber stamp made with 'DEFINE' on it.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

really interesting post - i have similar problems when i am proofreading students' MSc theses; they have no idea what it means to write their own words; they seem to get the gist of what a bibliography is, but they often include sources from other sources, who they dont end up mentioning in the biblio

it's very hard to get them to write their own words - most of the cultures that you seem to mention teaching have formed the idea that it is enough to say "Blah-blah (2010) says that (copy/paste)" - i now allow them to do that if it extends to a paragraph, but not a page (i ask them to rewrite it in a paragraph)...

Vilges Suola said...

They come from cultures that expect them to memorise and regurgitate, and it takes a fair bit of effort to get them to see that this is not what we are asking them to do. What we are asking them to do strikes them as very confusing at first, poor buggers.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

personally, i think many of my students will never learn to state a scientific fact/opinion in their own words - at the same time, they dont seem to be able to think originally in their own language


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