It’s funny. You never truly realize how hard it is to be objective until you are grading papers and tests. I started to pay attention to my own thoughts and feelings as I was grading a quiz today. Not only is it surprising, it’s a bit demoralizing. Just for background information, it’s a multiple page test. I graded this test not by person but by page. So after checking the front page of the test, I no longer had a name to go with the paper. I realized very quickly that I was paying attention to handwriting styles. Preconceived notions of student behavior then slowly crept in and made it difficult to make an objective decision on the papers. I even had to grab one and bring it back to mark something incorrect that I naturally waived as okay because of my perception that this student is a great student. It makes me think, if I am doing this and catching it in paper, what am I doing when I am giving students direct feedback? How am I responding to students in class? I am glad I caught it.
One other thing I noticed from grading these papers is that we spend a lot of energy making sure students get everything right. Down to the last detail. This includes using the language we tell them they have to use in order to be precise. As I was going through a paper, I realized that the student wasn’t using the vocabulary we taught to answer the questions but clearly knew the answer and was stating it in her own way. This is where my knowledge and understanding of SFL, Halliday, and linguistic knowledge jumped in and I gave her the points. The reason? She met the standard. No where in the standard does it say that you HAVE to use certain language in order to answer a question. It just says that students have to UNDERSTAND the concept. She clearly did just that. I’m not sure how my co-teacher is going to feel about that line or reasoning, but I’m willing to take the risk.
I’d certainly call today a success. My ELL students sat in a circle and had an academic discussion. It started slow. But once they started developing their own opinions and letting the conversation move out of the rigid framework of a thesis statement, they picked right up and had a debate. I’m definitely going to include more discussions and debates to the lessons. These are some of the few times in these student’s days when they can express themselves in a way that is meaningful and heard. Often during Socratic sessions, EL students will shut down due to the pace of the conversation or the level of chaos in American English conversation style of whoever can talk loudest gets to keep talking. This is great practice for the day when they will be the loudest in the circle.