Friday, November 21, 2008

It's a Dirty Job, but Someone's Gotta Do It

This week we're doing a task from the English Regents in my class. Actually I found a Kaplan book with mock exams and tried one. I'm really tired of having to read all the sample comps available on the net so as to catch those of my kids who think copying off the net is the best preparation for a two-day writing test.

Kaplan has a piece about the role of pasta in Italian culture. It's a little less detailed than what NY State usually provides, and has the added drawback of making everyone who hears the lecture impossibly hungry. Nonetheless, we plod on toward the test in January. It's discouraging, though, that some of these kids have either never studied or never grasped basic English grammar and usage.

I did a quick review of present and past tenses in English, hoping it would take in my newcomers. Still, they present me with sentences that make me want to rip my hair out and scream. I'm not sure that would be the best path to merit pay, but what do you say to a kid who poses a question like this:

How can Italians used to pasta?

What you do is you walk away for a moment, regain your composure, and return to say, "I'm sorry, but I don't understand that." The kid looks at you blankly for a long, long moment. Then he smiles the smile of one who's been enlightened, furiously moves his eraser, and presents you with the new and improved version:

How did Italians used to pasta?

He's so happy you don't know how to tell him you still don't understand it. So you move to the next kid and save that conversation for later. You move on, and you see this:

The food is the important thing of human being, every person must eat food every day.

And really, who can argue with that? I did read somewhere that food was an important element of a balanced diet. If only I could make the kid narrow the topic to Italian food and culture rather than all food and culture, if only I could make the kid identify subtopics, if only I could understand anything else the kid had written...

Well, New York State says these kids need to pass a test designed for native speakers of English. New York State doesn't recognize that people need at least a couple of years to master a new language. New York State doesn't recognize that it takes a few more years to acquire academic language.

So folks like me, who could help these kids acquire English faster, who could seduce these kids into loving to read, must force these kids into writing bare-bones, minimally acceptable comps that pass the Regents exam they should not have to take.
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