Let’s look at the reading section. “ Yes, Teacher. I read it twice. I looked up words I didn’t know the second time!” Again. Communication is plagued with misunderstandings. I take things to be obvious. They aren’t.
ToWe soon established that the student would not have a dictionary in the IELTS exam. I should have told him; I should have scaffolded more. The fine line between nurturing and smothering must be negotiated afresh in every new situation.
I know some things will be hard. I come from a village. I didn’t have a clue how my degree would be graded when I first arrived at university and I certainly didn’t know that you could earn a non-medical doctorate. I knew that my student would never have analyzed charts, tables and graphs as in the IELTS. I didn’t wager however on his minimal knowledge of how to take a test.
Each test is different and I am fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your perspective) to come from a culture which ingrains test-taking into its national psyche. Despite going to a rural school which taught us the wrong syllabus for our final two years, leading to complete confusion in our spring time exams, I grew up around tests; standardized and teacher-set.
We bypassed the reading in favor of writing; I spent an hour prepping him and concept checking that he was following my harried instructions before he sat down at his small desk made by an uncle to write the 150 word piece. The next day, we worked on the introduction for 2 hours; my student was clearly mystified that it could possibly take such a long time to write what I was describing as simple facts. Yet, he had to agree with me that his initial attempt was clumsy compared with his final production.
We have only just finished the introduction. We have another 4 paragraphs to address. After reading his first writing attempt I gave it back and simply said ‘try again: focus on using less convoluted language.’ The strange language that many students adopt when they feel that they should be formal: 6 lines of run-on sentences with 10 clauses and no commas.
I want to push for more, but I must be understanding and sympathetic to my student. One day, while I slept peacefully, he journeyed to the forest with his mother to cut firewood. To adapt, I tried to utilize time more efficiently by practicing the speaking portion of the test when we were headed to the river for our daily wash. This turned out to be impractical though based on an oversight of mine that the paper upon which I had written the prompt was useless when either of us had wet hands. Whoops. Live and learn. If we don’t try to push the boundaries then we only stagnate, so it is better to try and fail than never to have tried at all.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
Photo Credit: "Study" by Moyan Brenn (CC BY 2.0)
How Bias Can a Test Be?
English Speaking Practice
Data-Driven Decision Making
To Write or Not to Write
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