This is a question that occurred to me in a frenzy of test marking that took place last month… I’m interested to know what people think!
I’d appreciate your answer before you read on….
Having gone through fifty odd tests and looked at the scores, there were quite a few surprises in there. Students who are attentive and hard working in the classroom who scored very poorly and of course the opposite – students who do the bare minimum and who mess around and who lack focus and who confound expectations by doing well.
So what does that tell us?
Mostly it tells me that labelling students as “good” or “bad” is not a particularly helpful activity and in fact I know this already and have written about it before in “The Myth of the Good Student“.
It also tells me that behaviour does not equal learning and just because something looks like learning, doesn’t mean it is learning. I remember a student who, at a previous parent teacher conference had been exhorted to try harder, started sitting up and writing stuff down more during lessons and doing the coursebook exercises promptly and with reasonable efficiency. Upon slightly closer monitoring however, it turned out that he was literally just moving his pencil over the page in random squiggly lines and then putting it down and saying “finished” when there were enough other students doing the same to hide in amongst. I’m not sure what he thought it would achieve, but it is probably a tactic that works in other contexts, where there are thirty odd students in the class and the teacher doesn’t get beyond the first row very often.
There is a part of me though that believes effort, when it is made, should be rewarded. When I see the “good students” who proactively write things down and try to do the activities and exercises properly and who try to practice the language, and who give every appearance of being bright, keen and engaged – when I see them fail or score poorly it gets to me. I want them to feel like the time and hard work they put in was FOR something.
The flip side of that of course, is that it ever so slightly annoys me when the students who don’t do any of the work and who muck about in the lessons just breeze through the tests without any apparent effort at all. There are of course any number of reasons why they might behave the way they do, one of which might well be that they know it all and don’t need to make the effort because it is familiar ground to them. Or they could be swans. Effortlessly gliding on the surface whilst underneath they are paddling furiously – they might go home to parents who sit with them for an hour a day doing homework or extra reading…. You just don’t know.
So my answer to the question is that it’s probably worse when the good students do badly, but there is a third option which I didn’t put into the poll: when bad students do badly. I think this is probably worst of all, just because if the intention and motivation isn’t there, it’s very difficult to get them back on track again. But let me know what you think…..