Walking Stick Blogger

A Learning Space for Literacy and English Language Learners

Deciding to Go Back to School

This post is inspired by Wendell Dryden’s musings about his decision to return to school. I guess I have also been inspired to post these thoughts thanks to Henry Giroux’s chapter Literacy, Writing and Voice from his book, Teachers as Intellectuals. It is also in part due to the recent article written by Stephen Downes titled Agents Provacateurs.

Over the past few months, I have been wrestling over a decision about returning to school. In some ways, being a student is great; however, there are some things I hate about being in such a role.

I don’t like criticism. There, I said it. I am as proud as anybody else, and don’t like my ideas poked at and torn to pieces by an expert. It is a big ouch to see editor’s marks all over the page. I don’t like it that I have to read a lot about the teacher’s own writings first to guess what style and vocabulary and sentence structures are used, and which are not. I mean, if you want a great mark, instead of a lousy one, you monkey-see, monkey-do to get your banana.

Well, great!  Adult literacy students seldom get a chance to preview their teacher’s writing beforehand to model their way of writing to get their reward. Heck, most literacy teachers don’t have a collection of their own writing for students to read. So I have to count myself lucky I have something to look through before handing in my first assignment.

Maybe I should do something like that for my students, and come up with some samples for them to review? Great idea.

I especially hate the ways the teachers who are literary types, who demand a flawless use of grammar and spelling, and who basically re-write your essay for you. Part of me gets very annoyed at this – these are my ideas, anyways, aren’t they? – okay, so they aren’t polished, there are typos, comma splices, and letters switched within words, but, teacher, why go after every detail? Why not focus on three biggies first, then model what you want? Then I can go through the previous assignments and focus on the lessons learned, the feedback, and make use of it for my work.

I have to admit I have always been afraid of asking for a re-write. I sweat and worry and obsess about getting the essay just so, and then the judgement is passed on its worth…I worry about getting it done on time, and worry if I am unable to meet the deadline, and have to contact the instructor for an extension. I feel like a little boy going to the teacher with a late slip. Geez.

I wonder how my adult literacy students feel? I encourage them to submit something at various points so I can keep in touch with them about their progress. I reassure them it is for feedback, and they are allowed to revise their work. I work with them to generate ideas, and create a concept map with them, and then ask them to come up with an outline, then drafts of paragraphs, etc. I ask them to work with me at different steps of the process.

I wonder about the students who come in from time to time, handing in their completed assignments, expectign (typo-letter-switching) me to grade their work without any background of where they have been coming from.. in this case, how am I supposed to mark it? According to the rubric? (which the student did not bother to read). Do I make a few general comments about the nature of the assignment (instructions which the students did not read) and return the assignment to them? If the essay is on topic, but riddled with errors, do I give them an incomplete, and selectively give feedback on the most serious errors and gaps?

I get so many students so assured of their writing skill that they are annoyed and offended by any criticism of their ideas. (Hey, I admit it, I feel the same way). So, I experience the weird scenario of a couple students running from teacher to teacher for feedback on the very same paper, looking for differences. I have students switch teachers when they did not like the mark they got from one teacher for an assignment they submitted.

Needless to say, I ask these students to consult with the teacher who marked their paper. I step out of the way, and let the dialogue between teacher and student continue.

And then it hits me: I feel uncomfortable as a teacher marking student papers without having some idea of who these students are! But this sense of mutual fear is maintained in most places between students and teachers. Students not having any ideas what the teacher is looking for, and the teacher unclear how to assess this learner’s writing without any background details. (definitely not a grammatically correct sentence, but do I care?).

Not only am I still uncomfortable with deadlines, I am sitting on pins and needles with my stomach in knots while waiting for the graded asignment to be returned to me. I feel relief after it have pounded it out, then fear the very moment after I drop it into the teacher’s mailbox. Have I completed the assignment correctly? Will the teacher interpret the work favourably?

I hate the dependency upon the teacher who acts the sole validator of the worthiness of the ideas I present. I hate the idea that I might be unable to re-write my work after it has been graded. That it is up to the teacher to decide to give me another chance or not.

Well, those are legitimate fears, and I have seen how those fears stop some of my own adult literacy students from even attempting the task of writing reports or assignments. Some procrastinate, withdraw, make excuses, and seldom are seen again.

I have beome their feared authority figure!

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netizenship • November 1, 2010

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