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Amparo Bertram

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05:41 pm: Only in Japan?
They brought out the kerosene heaters today. There's one right next to my desk. It's nice being toasty warm, I just hope the smell doesn't get as bad as it did with the stoves they used in Niigata.

My fairytale class took its exam today. The teacher asked me to drop in the 3-3 classroom partway through to ask if there were any questions. I had never been to the 3-3 classroom before, so I made sure to double-check and ask directions. So, when I showed up...it was the wrong room. No, my sense of direction didn't fail me this time, I had actually made it to the 3-3 classroom. Unfortunately, it was the wrong set of students. I had to go to the room next door instead. As soon as I stepped in, the teacher said, "Sorry, I told you the wrong room."


After the tests were collected, I graded them. I had designed the test to be 25% reading comprehension, 50% vocabulary, and 25% short answer questions in which the students have to state their opinions on an issue and support them with reasons. I put most of the focus on vocabulary because A) that's what we spend the most time on in class, and B) that's what I think will be most useful to them when they go on to take English Proficiency exams. Considering the sheer number of new vocabulary words the students had to study to prepare for the test, I was really impressed with how well they did. The class average came out to about 91%. Since I consider this to be the equivalent of an AP class, I figured that was fair, particularly from the thoughtfulness of their answers.

Of course, my team teacher did not like this at all. He came over to have a little talk with me.

Teacher: The class average on the test was 91%.

Me: Yes, the students must have studied a lot.

Teacher: You should make the test harder next time.

Me: <thinks> A) The test covered exactly what we went over in class, plus I think it was quite fair, and besides, B) I gave a copy of it to you a week ago, so if you thought it was too easy you should have said something then.

Teacher: Teachers here think that if a test is too easy, students will get good grades.

Me: Don't you think it means the students worked very hard and deserve good grades?

Teacher: The class is supposed to have an average between 50-65%. That's a school rule.

Me: <aghast at the idea that a school would forcibly lower an AP class' average to 50-65%> Are you saying that even if the students study very hard you will give them bad grades?

Teacher: <laughs embarrassedly> No...but I think you should make the next test a writing test.

Me: Isn't it a reading class? And discussion? (Note: The only writing the students do during class is to take notes on the discussion.)

Teacher: Yes...but...Japanese students are poor at spelling. So make the next test have more writing.

So there you have it. I have been instructed to grade my high-achievers on their spelling so that I will have an excuse to give them bad grades.

In other news, I did manage to study for the Japanese Proficiency Test...for about an hour. The number of near-synonyms meaning "discussion/debate/argument" is mind-boggling. <sigh> I hope I can raise my vocabulary at least slightly before the test on Sunday. I know, I know, putting it off until the last minute is a really bad habit.

At one point, a bunch of teachers all gathered in front of the window at one end of the faculty room to watch the sunset. It was quite a pretty color. I would have taken a picture, but I would have had to shove people aside to do it, so I refrained.

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[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2004 03:18 am (UTC)
Teacher: The class is supposed to have an average between 50-65%. That's a school rule.
Wow. That's just...wow. I can't imagine running a school like that. Whenever I was in a class that had high test scores, the teacher was happy. And a 50-65% average? Isn't that awfully low to aim for??
[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2004 04:20 am (UTC)
40% is passing, so about 60% is considered a C. Apparently the logic is that if the students' grades are too good, they're not being challenged enough on the exams. From his comments, this goes more so for smart students.
[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2004 04:38 am (UTC)
I...Japan...It's just...<speechless>

Never mind. That makes my brain hurt. >.
[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2004 12:29 pm (UTC)
I tend toward the too-high grading tendency myself, but a tiny part of me understands what they're getting at. Some of the most challenging and enjoyable educational systems I've been in have been those that set the highest bar just a LITTLE bit out of reach, so the perfectionists never stop trying to reach it.

The funniest example was the Oxford exam grading system, which still used Greek letters for grading. Alpha was A, beta was B, etc. Except that you could never get a straight alpha or straight beta, oh no. The NORM was grades like alpha - - -/beta +++. I'm not kidding.

I once got an alpha minus minus (no slash-beta-anything) on an essay, and just about died with happiness on the spot. I ended up getting a first on my exams, so something about that grading system must have worked.

It's a fine line, though -- set the bar too much too high, and a perfectionist will despair and give up. There always has to be a sense of "pretty good, but you can do better next time" keeping the shiny red apple just out of reach.

I wonder how your Japanese students feel about the grades they get.
[User Picture]
Date:November 29th, 2004 09:35 pm (UTC)
I know that college classes are often designed to be "challenging" that way. My organic chemistry class regularly had an average of around 60%, and my calculus class sometimes had tests where the average was 20%. Yet, at the same time, the professors knew they were not dealing with a general population bell curve, their students were a select group. So the "average," whatever it turned out as, was set at a B, and the rest of the grades were curved accordingly.

My philosophy is that A) I should determine in advance what I want the students to be able to do, B) I should practice exactly those tasks in class, and C) I should test the tasks that they practiced. The point is that I want them all to be able to do all the tasks. I don't want half the class to be able to do the tasks and half the class not to be able to do them. Nor do I want the whole class to be able to do only half the tasks. (That's what having an average around 50-65% means, right?) If they're having trouble with the tasks, I want to work that out during the lessons so that when the test comes around they will perform well.

I mean, it's the same for any other preparatory class, right? The teacher of a driver's education class doesn't want to have a normal bell curve. A driver's ed teacher has the objective of getting all the students to be good drivers. If a student is having trouble backing up or parallel parking, then the student practices that task until it is mastered to an acceptable level.

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