evaluation of students
It is the beginning of a new semester, and I have to evaluate the initial work of students to see if they are properly placed.
It took a week in my ESL class to discover that two students should be in a more advanced class. The key was not in the students (who welcomed the chance to do some basic work in English), but the level of the OTHER students, some of whom were functioning at a low skill level. It took a while to plumb their capacities. The rest of the class cannot progress without those less skilled students coming along, and that would have been a sacrifice for the two most advanced students. Evaluation, in other words, is often relative.
In my writing class, faculty are asked to review second drafts of placement essays on the second day of class — almost 50 essays all at once, quickly. I look for two things; what are they saying, and how are they saying it. Under the first, they must include some analysis and a personal point of view, however scant. The second category is more difficult to assess quickly, but I have narrowed it down to two guidelines. First, have they divided their thoughts into separate paragraphs, with one idea, more or less, per paragraph? Second, quickly glancing through, can I understand their sentences? Another flag which reveals itself instantly is the constant use of generalities (“People think” of “Everyone knows,” or “you”) which muddy any point to be made.
Exercise: As the class progresses, I call upon the students themselves to evaluate each others’ essays. At the end of the semester, they are even asked to assign grades to various essays. Students who have been functioning poorly often cannot perceive their weaknesses, and having their fellow students agree with me, their professor, catches their attention, and that happens more often than not. The higher functioning students get a clearer understanding of their strengths, which is just as important as understanding their weaknesses, and can critique their own papers better.