Van and I sit in a sunny corner, blessed by the morning light. We’ve stretched in a salutation to the sun; my sternum has clunked in a way which neither of us think is positive.
Our clothes dance in the gentle breeze as they dry for the first time in a week. I have a keen sense of smell which has been continually stimulated by the cows, damp and smoke of monsoon season. We muse about our experience with graphs. Neither of us remember our first exposure. Van dredges up a memory of a 4th grade histogram which was created after a blind taste test of four popular American popcorn brands. I recall how I took a large sample for standard deviation of 10 pence pieces in the year 2000 to find the average minting year (89% 1992 for those who were wondering).
Analysis of data is something which Van and I find straightforward. Writing task 1 of the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test includes 150 words, 20 minutes, 4 or 5 categories, each with a subset of 4 pieces of data. Find the highest, lowest and comparative; done. It is a very formulaic piece of writing on which I am hoping that our trainee will gain a high level score. I worked a lot on this writing task with our trainee in April and May; we spent one week doing the introduction. Four pieces of information: the type of graph or chart being analysed, the year of the figures, the people or place involved and what is being measured. We discussed and wrote these four facts for 16 hours.
I’m certain that the student thought I was over reacting or had lost part of my mind due to heatstroke. However, upon our return 6 weeks later, he is still able to recall the 4 pieces of necessary information and put them together cohesively. In addition, considering that I have had two separate pieces of writing from him without paragraphs, the fact he now uses these organisational devices is a huge triumph for us.
We must also consider writing task 2 of the IELTS. The actual writing product is an opinion not fact; and therefore, in my view, is harder to keep concise and on-task. He needs to be straightforward, clear and formulaic at this level of English. After 2 weeks, he is now able to write a full answer to a question.
Our technique has to change day by day. I would simply write one essay until it was perfect before moving to the next one. However, our student has not had to employ as much rigour in test-taking discipline. I cannot enforce my preference onto the student blindly; I must be responsive to his moods and personal preferences.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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