Wednesday, 21 March 2007

American Questions, Presentations, Grading, Stab Boy

Wed 21st March
The school is hosting an English Olympiad at the weekend in which students from all the schools in the city are invited to compete. I’ve had the American Culture, Society and History questions I set rejected on the grounds of my not being American (rather than because they are all very arsey questions which allow a 33 year old to say “Ha! You didn’t know that? What do you know?” to an annoyed 15 year-old Mongolian honours student). Here are my favourite ones, for your edification: (answers at the bottom of this post, and Wikipedia, presumably)

-Which founding father was a leading figure in the Enlightenment, and among countless other achievements invented bifocal glasses and a peculiar musical instrument which was later rumoured to cause insanity in the listener?

-Who is the current Vice-President of the US?

-Born around 1595, the daughter of a native american chief, which princess reputedly saved the lives of colonials, in 1607, by pleading on their behalf with her father? She died on a visit to England in 1617, and is buried at Gravesend, Kent.

-The citizens of which American city were only given the right to vote in Presidential elections after the 23rd Amendment of the US Constitution in 1963?

My term plan of setting the students to do presentations to lesson my teaching load didn’t really come off, with only a handful of students believing it was worth the effort of trying to improve their grade from a notoriously bollixy teacher. It did inspire me to give the students a lecture on why Hitler wasn’t so great, which I enjoyed and which seemed to provoke some interest from the 11th grade.

I took the opportunity to castigate my students for relying on PowerPoint and the internet (without which I would have had some trouble with my Shackleton presentation, but need I remind you that hypocrisy is a teacher’s prerogative?): a lot of students had one variant or another on ‘the-dog-ate-my-memory-stick’ excuse for not having their work ready to give. All the Power-Pointed presentations that were given ended with a screen proudly saying “Sources :”

Does this happen in the US and UK too? I imagine it does. Whatever happened to the time-honoured tradition of getting one book on a subject from the library, then listing half the bibliography as your source? Is that too much trouble for this generation of cyber-slackers?

I’ve also been sounding-off to my colleagues on the failings of education systems where grades are the only thing that students, parents and schools are interested in.

To be fair to the school, if it was the only thing they were interested in, then they’d have relieved me of my grading duties at the end of last term; and to be fair to Mongolia, the grade-obsession must be near universal, wherever education is practised. Much as I was as a student, I am convinced that as far as teaching and learning go, grading, beyond ‘pass’, ‘fail’ and maybe ‘distinction’, is about 93.4% useless.

The carrot I use to get the 4th grade to hand in work is that I draw them a little cartoon rather than write a score - a carrot or themselves looking stupid if the work was poor, a happy rabbit, or a zombie, or a baby smoking a cigarette, depending on their preference, if the work was good. This has worked surprisingly well - as the poor students are rewarded in as much as they all get a cartoon, but I find they all make more effort with their work even though some of the ‘lazy student’ drawings are better than the rabbits; naturally, though, nothing could be cooler than a baby smoking a cigarette.

In occasional bouts of homesickness I find my way to to read the latest news from the Echo: home of balanced, informative journalism. Today I learned that Liverpool gangs are producing skunk cannabis "one puff of which can cause schizophrenia" (well, we already know it induces paranoia), and was moved by a touching photograph of Stab Boy and his mother, who blames the infamous Chucky movies (source of all juvenile crime in Merseyside for many years now, well, apart from instant-schizophrenia skunk) for her son's recent behavioural problems. Actually, now I have a pseudo-broadband connection I am listening to Radio 4 a lot, so I am well aware that the Echo is making the most of local variants on what seem to be the big stories at the moment in the national press: nonetheless, I admire the particular panache with which those exemplary Echo hacks manage to churn this stuff out. Well done!

American Quiz answers: Ben Franklin, Dick Cheney, Pocahontas, Washington D.C.