June 30, 2008
Clues for the clueless #6
Hint: If I cannot decipher your English, I cannot grade your essay. There is a really great way to help this problem, which I recommend in my syllabus, orientation presentations, and course information (and announce several times over the semester, both in live and online classes): have someone read your essay aloud. Whenever the person stumbles trying to read aloud, you probably have a problem in your writing that needs to be fixed. Be sure your reader is a fluent English speaker.
No, this doesn’t often result in perfect papers. That really isn’t the point. The point is that the English will at least be adequate, so I can understand what is being understood. This isn’t an English class, and my English writing probably makes my English Prof readers cringe. The point is to be understood.
This isn’t just an ESL problem. I get mangled English from everyone- mangled so badly that I cannot tell if they understand the concepts. To me, exam are teaching tools. They allow me to evaluate what a student knows while teaching concepts of writing and recall, analysis and critical thought. I offer a few different formats for getting this information back and forth, because not everyone is the greatest at any one format. Multiple choice, short answer, essay, discussion… some things timed to check for recall, some things untimed to check for understanding and research.
Essays are untimed. I provide the questions two weeks before an exam week begins. Then they have all week to enter their answer into the computer, or have until exam day to turn it in. For upper-level courses, i do timed essays to help them prepare for timed tests such as the GREs. Timed essays are very different creatures from untimed ones. I expect some mangling in timed essays as students untangle their thoughts. But untimed, do-at-home, at-your-leisure essays? For a major exam? The least you can do is look up the artist names and spell the time periods correctly.
If you are discussing Leonardo the winchy in an exam, you are not going to get an A on that untimed assignment. It is just one symptom of a much larger problem: and I have yet to find an essay with one such symptom that doesn’t show many, many others. Displaying your ignorance- then complaining that you are not getting an A- isn’t going to help your grade at all.