Saturday, September 20, 2008

chat assignment, cont'd

Sixteen to two to one (see below), really eighteen to two to one, with the one ambivalent student perhaps representing what most truly felt, but, given the results, I had to stop and reflect. My students were telling me loudly and clearly that chat was an informal dialect that is harmful to language learners, and in effect ran counter to what they saw as their goals here. With that kind of resounding opinion, I knew I had to rethink my introduction to chat and chatting with students, which I had carefully justified pedagogically. This same group, by the way, proved to me, in chatting, that they were quite adept at it; while they would whine endlessly about writing a single paragraph, they could create chat streams that I could not keep up with, and that were fluent in several languages at once. We had not in fact chatted much before I asked them to write the essay; they were weak grammatically, and we'd spent most of our class time working on more basic issues. Yet we'd tried, and I'd explained the PROS. They knew where I stood on the issue; they also heard me, I'm sure, when I told them that I was genuinely interested in what they had to say about it and how they felt. Write what you want, I told them, just use the quotes as you were taught to do in writing class. It was a practice final.

Yet, given the chance, these were the essays they produced. Here are some possible reasons so many chose con, if in fact they were ambivalent or even pro:
1. they found it easier to construct the con arguments, given the quotes; they had heard those arguments before, and were most comfortable with familiar, comprehensible arguments. The PRO arguments were perhaps difficult to grasp, or they couldn't quite fit together three good ones;
2. in spite of actively and often chatting with friends, they couldn't conceive of it actually having useful class application; it was for fun, it was not for school, and they knew nobody could stop them from chatting no matter what they argued;
3. they genuinely noticed its ill effects, and were bothered by them, and found that easy to write about;
4. they tend to act as a group; they asked their friends, and went the way the wind was blowing, for the most part;
5. aware that it was being published, they were conscious that the ministry of education or whoever they hoped would hire them, would be able to read the essay, and decided to please what they saw as the powers that be;

Perhaps you can read into my explanations the feeling I have that in general, they are sincere; in reading the essays, you will find their real voice coming out; they are arguing in their best essays. They were not my best EAP2 class; this was a fairly typical stack of essays in terms of quality. I did correct grammar before putting them online, but I do that very minimally, and often miss things, especially in titles. I rarely change meaning; when I suspect they meant something other than what they said, I present several choices to them in hopes that they will use one and express themselves more carefully.

As a result of this stunning development, I stopped using chat directly in these classes, as I realized that I would have to understand more carefully the societal and social objections to chat that were so freely coming to the surface, before I continued. At the same time, I became so busy that I could not only not find the time to document this development, but also not even mark it carefully in my weblog, or here, until now. Busy, huh? Such is life. When you grade huge stacks of twenty, you do pop art on weekends.


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