Friday, August 23, 2013


I spent the last 5 days marking my students' PMR Trial papers and have just keyed-in their marks.

Marking essays has always been a tedious affair but this time round, it wasn't too bad. In all three classes that I teach, there was a marked improvement in the quality of writing compared to the students' Mid-Year Exam performance.

I was glad to see that the majority of my students were able to structure their essays in an organised manner and use appropriate connectors (e.g. furthermore, moreover, in addition, etc). They also managed to elaborate on the given points creatively.

The above may seem like trivial things but I was very pleased because they prove that (some of) my students were listening to my input after all!

However, some of the students' grammar made me cringe. Or laugh out loud. Or both. For example:
Secondly, prepare a timetable for you to study. It must be every day except Sunday, a recess time and family time. You cannot study everyday because here an idioms for you "Jack is a boring boy without play time". I don't know whether the idioms is right if it wrong just let it be.

Marking Section B was particularly excruciating as quite a number of students could barely string two grammatically-correct sentences together.

And it's not just their writing skills that are wanting, it's their critical thinking skills as well. The students struggled to form their own opinions and express their ideas convincingly because they're so used to regurgitating sample essays.

This handicap reminded me of a chapter in Dangerous Minds (a book I'll write more about in another entry). Ms. Johnson had the same problem with her students so she tried the 'timed response' method. Basically, the students were asked to respond to a controversial statement in 5 to 10 minutes. In that space of time, they had to decide whether to agree or disagree with the statement and explain their thinking in writing.

The statement that she used was: "It's okay to steal, as long as nobody gets hurt."

At first, Ms. Johnson graded her students' responses based solely on the content (and disregarded the spelling and grammatical errors) because critical thinking skills were the focus of the exercise. The students' language could be worked on later.

Sounds like a good plan, huh? I plan to carry it out with my students and have started to look around for suitable controversial statements.

Here's my list so far:
When a couple gets married they shouldn’t be allowed to divorce.
Women make better teachers than men.
There are no bad children, only bad parents.
Watching too much television reduces your intelligence.
Money is more important than love.
We are all basically selfish.
Committing suicide should be made legal.
Homework is harmful

Any suggestions to add to the list?

1 comment:

Al-Manar said...

Not being trained to teach I get the impression that there is very high emphasis on essay writing. Rightly or wrongly Form One children tell me that in class they have to write essays from day one. many resort to Malay-English dictionary to find words to use. They are taught to memorise idiomatic expressions and proverbs. Essays must have them to earn marks. Formats are very important. One group showed me the letters they wrote for their teachers, each letter beginning with -"How are you? I hope you are in the pink ....."

I am glad I can do it my way, ignoring the syllabus and avoiding books recommended for English in Malaysian schools.