Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Anticipatory Set

In my class, we're reading about hazardous waste incinerators. It's necessary, because the writers of the NY Regents exam chose that as one of their many scintillating topics. The folks who design that test really know how to motivate teenagers to write. Personally, I can't wait till they get around to covering "The History of Cement."

To focus my kids, I sometimes have them write the assignment in the form of a question. Of course, my kids are from other countries, so the vocabulary is often kind of rugged for them. Nonetheless, a resourceful young woman in the back of the classroom suggested, "Do you agree or disagree we should build a blah-blah waste blah-blah in your community?" I dutifully posted it on the board.

Then I asked how others felt about the issue.

"I disagree," called out another young woman.

"Well, if you're going to write about it, you need reasons," I told her. "Why do you disagree?"

"Because I don't know what it is," she replied.

"I think that's a very good reason," I told her.

You see, they're thinking very clearly. They just need a little time to learn English before they can get those thoughts on paper. Unfortunately, the geniuses in Albany have decreed it's better for them to spend their time trying to pass a test clearly designed for native speakers. Therefore I have little or no time to teach them English.

I've often fantasized about sending the all-knowing Board of Regents to China and giving them six months to pass an identical test in Chinese. Can you imagine doing that? Neither can I.

Yet that's what my kids are expected to do, and I'm stupid enough to volunteer for this job. And yes, I did eventually tell the kids what "hazardous" and "incinerator" mean.
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