Shit teacher trainers say to novice teachers:
'Always check your instructions for tasks and activities.'
'Check that everyone understands the vocabulary you are presenting,'
'Grade your own language to the level of the students.'
That last one! Sounds obvious, right? Try it. Takes a fair while and repeated failures to acquire the knack. Every time I hear the bloke from student services address a new intake of dazed Arabic, Chinese and Thai speakers, I want to tell him to shut up, stand aside and let me make his speech for him. My favourite example of failure to grade appropriately was recorded by a colleague in Cambridge in the late eighties. A yellow-cardied and sensibly-shod trainee teacher-lady, wife of a Fellow of the University, was teaching a group of students of the level usually described as 'pre-intermediate', i.e., 'not knowing an awful lot of English yet'. They were reading a text and she was eager to move on.
'Well now,' she purred. 'If you can bear to tear yourselves away from this...'
I fear I've been less than totally successful myself this week in making sure all students understand what's being heavily piled onto them over the course of each muggy day. A colleague and I have been hammering the Harvard System of Referencing into a bunch of graduate students from Saudi Arabia, China and Taiwan. We point out repeatedly that not all departments use this system, and they will need to find out which system to adopt when they start their courses in September. Today I had the class look at the reference for the text I was using and tell me what information it gave them. This they did successfully. Then, inevitably, Badi chimes in.
'Teacher, I have quistion. How I can know how I must rifrence book?
'Like that. The one on the screen. In bold type. The one we have just pulled apart.'
'Yes, but teacher, how I can know how book will rifrence?
'Like I just fucking told you. What do you mean?'
'I mean, how I will know how I must rifrence books?'
Just before I nearly gobbed him one, the penny dropped. All the explaining Joanna and I have done about different referencing systems has been interpreted by Badi to mean that the system chosen depends not on the department but the individual book. Christ... I felt exasperated this afternoon, but now I'm not sure if this misinterpretation is a dumb one or a clever one.
Group N were given three short texts on the evil that is plagiarism, and how it is to be avoided. They then had to write a short essay based on these texts, defining plagiarism, suggesting why students might resort to it, and ways in which they might be delivered from this evil. I marked the essays on the train on the way home. Fang Hua had produced hers by copying verbatim and without acknowledgement from source texts exhorting her not to copy verbatim and without acknowledgement from source texts.
Synthesising ideas from a variety of sources is something few of these students have ever done, despite being graduates. The colleague with whom I share Group N tried to clarify matters. 'This text presents idea A, and this one idea B, this one idea C...'
This mystified a Chinese girl even further.
'So which of those is my idea?