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Language Log

Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006 - 9:38 a.m.

I had another enjoyable encounter with my most annoying student ever. I gave a quiz today-- it was on a 2 1/2-page article that we spent two days in class discussing. I had them discuss questions in groups and present their answers to the class. I told them that if they wanted to do well on the quiz, they should study the questions. I gave them copies of the questions. I told them that the format would be similar to that of the last quiz. Some of the questions were nitpicky detail questions, but more were Big Idea questions. If you got the main points, you could certainly do well. If you got the nitpicky bits and the big ideas, you get an A. There were no nitpicky bits that were not also brought up orally in class discussion.

So after class today The Whiny Student and a buddy stayed after to give me their personal theory of what a reading class quiz should look like: namely, that it would be much better for them if I allowed them to look at the article during the quiz, or at least if I were to print a copy of the paragraph containing the answers in the quiz itself for them to refer to. Oh, and I should ask more multiple choice questions instead of these short answer questions, which were too hard. Reading, they opined, was about being able to read something and find the answer. They should not have to memorize anything in order to pass a reading quiz.

I think I exhibited a certain amount of self-restraint, but not enough. I should have said, "Thank you for your opinion. I'll take it into consideration", and sent them packing. Instead, I gave them a five-minute lecture on the goals of the class, the fact that my quizzes are similar to those given in other reading classes, and while they might be interested in learning test-taking skills for the TOEFL, that was a test they are going to take ONCE, whereas in all of the remaining classes they ever take, they will be expected to understand and memorize the reading without getting to have it there in front of them. I also pointed out that these skills are nested: if they learn the harder stuff I'm teaching, they'll get the skills needed for the TOEFL in addition to other useful skills, but if I taught them only the TOEFL skills, then they will still be in trouble in all future classes.

I shoulda kept it short. My mind boggled, was all. When my mind boggles, I babble.

The damned thing is that I had already planned to make the next quiz one where they are presented with a text they had not seen before, and are asked questions about it. Of course, now I'm worried that Obnoxious Student will think I did it for him; if I do do it, I want to make some of the questions questions of the type that will not be found in the text at all. So he'll spend half the alloted time looking for the answer to "what is the author's bias?" Retribution. Be careful what you ask for.

But that's not nice. I should carry on as if I had not had this unpleasant conversation. I will try to.

This student's strategy has been to try to make me feel sorry for him so he won't get sent home. In fact, the more I interact with him, the more I feel that I would be doing many Americans a huge favor by helping ensure that this brownnosing little douchebag isn't here to annoy them, too.

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