December 21, 2006

Today's Ethical Dilemma

Here's the fact pattern courtesy of Anon Teacher:

I gave my freshmen a writing assignment to test how well they'd picked up on the elements that made up an epic. I knew they could recite the characteristics of an epic to me, but I wanted them to show me that they'd learned what makes an epic by writing one of their own. While I'd hoped they'd do well on this assignment, they've demonstrated their lack of writing abilities before, so I was nervous.

But what I got back was excellent.

The kids not only followed the guidelines of the assignment, demonstrating they understand the concept of what makes an epic, but they were also so creative. I'm in Panera right now grading, and I'm enjoying reading their assignments. They are riddled with grammatical errors, but they're so creative and entertaining, I've adjusted my rubric to make grammar less important.

Who thinks that Anon Teacher did the right thing?

This is what our current education system has wrought. Educators have adjusted their rubrics for teaching kids how to read, write, and do basic math so as not to require proficiency according to society's understanding. I'm certain that the grammatical errors made by these students are not of the esoteric or pedantic variety, but of the painfully embarrassing and brutally obvious variety.

It should not be a trade-off between creativity and proficiency in the use of the English language. You should be able to write simple sentences that are grammatically accurate by the ninth grade.

Being that the job prospects for aspiring epic writer is already small, I would think that the job prospects of the epic writer with poor grammar skills is virtually non-existent. I can assure you that colleges and future employers will not be adjusting their rubrics to let grammatical incompetence slide by.

I suppose NCLB is to blame for this as well.


Anonymous said...

No, he didn't do the right thing. I'd return the papers with the errors marked, and give them two grades: the bad one they've earned because of the poor grammar, and the one their ideas, etc., deserve, but which they haven't earned because their writing is poor. Tell them that the first one is what's going in the book if they don't correct their mistakes, and the second one is what they'll get if they do correct them. Then give them a week to redo the papers.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Stand up and say "listen folks, most of you did terrific, creative work that really demonstrates that you understand the concepts we are working on. HOWEVER, most of you also did work that has substantial spelling and grammar errors. I'd like you to have an opportunity to correct them so I don't have to take points off. So I am handing these back. Return them with corrections Monday."

Anonymous said...

I don't think you should shortchange the creativity since that really plays into student motivation.

But to ignore the grammatical errors is a betrayal of the student. I agree that rewriting it with corrections is the way to go.

Teachers worry about hurting kid's feelings and sapping motivation. I often wrote papers like that with teachers praising me to the hilt for it and ignoring my grammar. My creativity got me through many permissive teachers until I hit this one killer one. She couldn't care less about my creativity.

It would have been a lot easier if the ones that made a big deal out of the creative stuff had taught me where I went wrong grammatically along the way.

Anonymous said...

"I've adjusted my rubric to make grammar less important."

A rubric is designed to give detailed feedback to a student on a number of topics. I assume that one of them is grammar. How the different parts of a grade are weighted is (usually) up to the teacher.

However, many parents, myself included, tend to react very negatively to stories like this. Kid Spelling is praised in Kindergarten. Heck, they didn't even teach my son how to hold a pencil correctly. My son's first grade teacher was talking about looking for "voice" in their journal writings. Creative writing trumps expository writing every time in the modern school. Fuzzy always wins over concrete.

I would say that there is not enough information to give a detailed opinion, but I'm very skeptical.

Anonymous said...

Kid Spelling is praised in Kindergarten. Heck, they didn't even teach my son how to hold a pencil correctly. My son's first grade teacher was talking about looking for "voice" in their journal writings. Creative writing trumps expository writing every time in the modern school.

Interesting. My son's school (he's in first grade) has weekly spelling tests and instruction in how to hold a pencil. I say "school" because the teachers use the same curriculum.

Ms. Q said...

I like Michael's idea to give it back with the option of two grades. I had never thought of that.

There are two scenarios:
1. Anon T gave assignment in class and students had to finish immediately.
2. Anon T gave assignment over a day or two or more and students did it for homework.

Grammar mistakes in scenario 1 should not count as much (or should be given back for corrections to get a better grade), but in scenario 2 you are allowing failure in one area while stressing importance in another. It would be akin to saying "Thanks doctor for the diagnosis of the problem and it's ok that you can't give me the medication, even though you have it right there on your desk."

By allowing students to continue to slip by with substandard grammar and spelling shows them the "unimportance" of the issue.

Anonymous said...

I teach math... and with the standards set-up as they are, I could easily divorce my teaching from many applications (let's just say 'science' for ease). So, math and science are divorced into two different classrooms.

Now, (creative) writing and grammar are taught together in one English classroom, but is grammar just not meant to be aplied to writing (as one output at least)? If math and science can be separated and graded separately, why not grammar and writing?

(personally, in my young idealism, I'd like to see a more "wholistic" approach

Peter Greene said...

Coming late to the party....

I'm an English teacher, and I would not frame this as "grammar" vs. creativity. The real issue here is what objectives did you teach toward, and is your evaluation appropriate for those.

If a story problem in math requires a graphic ilustration of the "which truck is faster" problem, do you take points off if the student's drawing of the truck is lousy? Probably not, unless you announced ahead of time that it would count. You evaluate what you teach.

So the real question here is-- should "grammar" be part of every single teaching lesson in an English class? I'm oersonally careful about this element in teaching writing, because you can write an essay that is absolutely flaw-free but which is still mediocre crap. "Grammar" may be important, but measuring its relative importance to other writing elements is the big trick here.

Note for the pickly: I say "grammar" because when people start these conversations about "grammar," they really mean usage. Grammar is the parts and pieces-- what's the subject and what's the verb. Usage is the issue of "which word is correct" and that's a tricky area, because "correct" usage has as much, or more, to do with politics, power and fashion, as it does with any objective correctness.

Anonymous said...

As a newspaper columnist as well as a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher, I understand the importance of teaching writing skills. My students write a lot, and every final draft they turn in receives two separate grades, one for content and one for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It's amazing how much more attention kids pay to g/s/p when they know it counts--every time. John E.