Today I almost had a revolution in my classroom. Some of my studes were seriously cross with me and my methods. I am not questioning the methods as such, because I have thought about them long and hard for a number of years and I believe in what I am doing. What I find unsettling is the students’ reactions. Let me explain.
One of my classes, I call it my laboratory class because I am able to experiment new ideas and techniques with them, well, this class is full of well-meaning yet unstructured language learners. Some are beginning to show real signs of progress and that is really encouraging. Others are stagnating and I find that frustrating. To try to take stock of how to move forwards in a meaningful way, I took in their exercise books to look at. Blimey, I wondered if some of them had actually been in the same class as me !! Bits and bobs all over the place, poorly copied, papers not stuck in … basically a bit of a mess. I decided to put together a “mark scheme” to give the kids in question some feedback as to what I felt was not right with their books. At this point, I should remind you, dear reader, that the kids in question are16 year olds. My feedback system gave points for papers being stuck in correctly, in the right order, correct copying with no mistakes and all the work being done.
papers being stuck in correctly 5pts
in the right order 5pts
correct copying with no mistakes 5pts
all the work being done 5pts
This gave a mark out of 20. Hey, this is France, after all !!
The results ranged from 3/20 to 20/20. I must specifiy this was not a surprise. The kids were warned over a week in advance that I was planning to do it. I returned the books in class this morning and wow, the brown stuff hit the fan.
Of course, Philippe did not complain – he was the one with 20/20. Nor did Jean, a boy who is gaining confidence slowly and who works methodically in his attempts to progress and so got 16/20.
The revolutionaries were the ones with disappointing marks and they really let loose. Apparently I am treating them like babies, they had been told they were grown up now and so I had no right, yes I repeat, no right to check their books like this, it was patronising, it was abusing my power … Of course, the old chestnut of “it will wreck my termly average and that will ruin my life forever more” was there too.
Now, of course, when I tot up the famous “moyenne” at the end of the term, this mark for their books will have little if any weighting overall and if my aim was to shake them up, it worked. But my aims went further than that. I had hoped to show them that keeping on top of their books is a way of keeping on top of their work and as they work from their exercise books, then these objects are the very basis of everything else and if there is chaos in their books, how can they expect to achieve at their best levels.
I failed miserably at that aim with a large number of kids. Not all of them. I am happy to say that some get it – but unfortunately others don’t. And miserably, I conclude that the ones that don’t “get it” seem to be the ones that are cruising along below where they should be. And that concerns me.
Am I too demanding ? Should I just accept that average or slightly above or below average is OK ? Am I unreasonable to expect legible handwriting ? A date ? A title ? One young man said to me “I haven’t written a date in my exercise book for several years, Madame”. I find his remark scary and it shows how much banging of my head against a wall I am going to have to do. I also remember this lad has been in my class for five months and has got away with it til now !! Is it too late ? Should I just accept the obvious ?
What would you do ?
If you scroll down, you can read what I intend to do about it.
I am not going to give up !! I told this group of young men on the first day of the school year that I was going to be their “Maman Pédagogique” for the year and just as a mother wouldn’t give up on her child, I am not going to give up on my class. I am going to insist on correct presentation and handwriting. If it is not done properly, it will be done again. There is a parents’ evening coming up soon. I can collect the books in again just before and I am sure the parents would find it illuminating to check out their offsprings’ books. After all, how many of us take a peek at our teenagers’ homework books on a regular basis ? I am the first to own up to not doing so with my kids.
I am going to keep bashing away at this one. This class has been so pleasurable in so many ways so far that I am not going to let this happen. So, my sleeves are rolled up. Guys, if you think this is babyish and patronising, then I am sorry for that but one day, I hope, you will see what I am trying to do. And let us not forget that for every Daniel and Victor who are moaning about the injustice of it all, there are Philippes and Jeans who are finding their way after years in an English wilderness. For them, I will continue to be a right Royal pain in the a*** because I owe it to them. If I take this class on into next year, then it will be an investment for the future. If I don’t, well at least they will have seen one way of doing things before having to adpat to a new way with someone else.
Strap yourselves in and hold on to your hats, boys, the journey has only just begun. This could get rocky !!