When the students got their test scores back, however, some of them regretted their decision and wanted the summary to count for more points. Others were happy with the value of the vocabulary and wanted the test to be the same. Another student wanted his/her own test to be weighted differently than the others.
Student A: “Can you make mine 1 point each for the vocab?”
Me: “No, I can’t weight your test differently than the others. That’s unfair.””
Student B: “Keep the test the same.”
Student C: “Yeah, it’s good already.”
Student D: “No, change it. 1 point each.”
Me: “I can’t do that now. I only changed it because I told you one thing and the test said another. I changed it to reflect what I said earlier.” (At this point, I am getting flustered in a flurry of options and opinions. Some of the students are murmuring discontent side conversations, and one student is scowling at me like I have just mercilessly kicked a puppy.)
Student A: “Can you do 1.5 points each for the vocab?”
Me (in my auctioneer voice, pointing around the room to solicit bids): “1.5? 1.5? Can I get a 2?2-2-2? Anybody-anybody? 5 points each? 5-points-5-points-5-points…going once! Going twice! SOLD!”
The students all laughed and then became quiet and civil, the classroom returning to normal. It was as if they recognized how out of hand they had gotten.
I’ve heard of many a teacher getting into a test of wills with students who want to haggle with them over grades or classroom policies. I never know what to do in situations like that. I never know if this is a language barrier (students don’t know the pragmatics of making these requests politely and appropriately in this context) or if it’s culturally acceptable to bicker with a teacher or if the student is actually just rude. It’s a kind of situation I would describe as a hostile confrontation if it ever happened with American students. I’ve taught English 101 to Americans, and it’s funny how differently a spirit of discontent is often actualized:
“So the vocab was actually worth 20%?”
“Oh.” The student leans back and folds his arms defiantly. You know he’s upset. The whole class knows he’s upset. There is an awkward silence that quickly passes. In the back of your head, you make a mental note that you’ll probably be receiving a snarky student opinion survey after the semester is over about how unfair your tests are, but at no point do you expect your classroom to explode into a New York Stock Exchange-style bargain and trade operation over how you’re going to grade them.
This experience reminds me again about the need to teach students about culture in addition to language, and how important it is to have clear expectations. As off-putting it is to have my teaching philosophy questioned, I still welcome that criticism. It reminds me of that Power of Habit book I’ve been reading. In one chapter, it described a willpower study in which two groups had to resist temptation (a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies), but one group was told to give their input on the study and if they had any questions before, during, or after the experiment, they were welcome to ask them. They were thanked for their time and the experiment began. The other group was ordered to begin and given very little opportunity to voice their opinion.
Neither group ate any of the cookies, but the group that was given a voice also happened to give a more sustained effort on a boring computer task. The second group grew listless and despondent, performing poorly on the same task.
It may look messy, like you’re negotiating with an angry mob or standing before a military tribunal or firing squad, but I think we’ll get more out of our students if we gave them a voice.