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Sep 2014
Every course should be marked on content.
In todays schooling we ask students to write final essays or regular essays to discuss their knowledge in a specific topic. However, marks are deducted for minor sentence errors, grammatical errors and style errors. But does that mean they don’t have sufficient knowledge about the topic or that the content of the essay does mean standards? No. Students lose marks for unrelated reasons. Grammar is not content. Grammar is grammar. Content could be excellent while the grammar is horrible. Philosophers potentially had the worst grammar ever, however we have glorified their thoughts for centuries.
This is where schooling has changed. And this is how schooling needs to change. Writing an essay is irrelevant to knowledge about a topic. Writing skills and understanding of content do not intertwine. If I wanted someone to apply knowledge they learned from a topic an essay is perhaps a very irrelevant way of doing so. Why judge someone on something that is, in today’s society exposed to interferences? Interferences such as grammatical errors.
If I wanted to know someones knowledge about a certain topic and wanted them to apply logic and theories they learned from courses, why not talk to them rather than using paper as a pigeon to share ideas? If it was spoken I can’t say “you lost marks because you didn’t put a period here and a comma there.” If it is spoken, you will still be able to notice if the student understands the topic. This way there is not interferences. It is strictly about content of knowledge and the students ability to apply what they have learned into specific views about a question I would have for them.
If I asked a teacher to have a class discussion where everyone had input, how would the teacher grade them? On quality of their answer, and clarity. Clarity being their ability to get to the point. However, if it is not clear, can the student make it clear for the rest of the class? Because what sometimes isn’t clear for one person, could be unclear because they are not as intelligent to be able to understand. The other student might not be so stupid because he said it in a way that is unclear. Maybe the listener is stupid because they didn’t understand? However, if the student can make it clear then their quality of the answer enhances and they will receive a higher grade.
For instance, if this was a formal essay that attempted to answer “What is wrong with schooling?” I would lose marks because I asked questions. Asking questions for some reason is not allowed? Is it informal? No. But society tells us we shouldn’t ask questions we should instead assume something and make a statement because that imposes confidence in a thought. But, if I was questioning certain aspects of something would that prove that I have sufficient knowledge towards one topic? Wouldn’t that impose that I have enough knowledge to understand details and question them? But hey, don’t formulate that statement in a question. It’s stupid. Question everything because you will never know all the answers regardless of all the resources.
By discussing a topic, the answers are direct. Content may vary depending on how much the student learned (providing the teacher is good at teaching and the proper course are in place). If the student struggles to understand a topic it will be evident in the quality of their answer. We can still see if the student is trying too hard (which is never a bad thing to set the standard high, shoot for the stars), or if the answer they have is someone else’s because they aren’t necessarily answers that they would have or words that they would use. But that is an assumption. Never assume, instead question. We can still notice if the student paid attention the course lectures and successfully answered the topic question with detail, reference, questions, relations, and application of knowledge that was taught to the student.
Just because a student can’t write a thought out on paper, does not mean they didn’t understand it. **** I used contractions, I would lose more marks there as well. See what I mean, a highschool teacher would tell me that I can’t say “Can’t” I was supposed to say “Can not” because that is formal. What is formal? Who said that is formal? Jim Joe Bob down the road? Who cares, does the student understand the topic or not? Stop docking marks for things unrelated to the subject.
If this was a writing course it would be understood why a student would lose marks for grammar and word choice and sentence structure or clarity. But students lose marks in History essays for word choice, and in political science for forgetting a period and in gender studies for saying “you” in a final essay. These are unneeded reasons for losing marks. At the end of the day does the student understand the historical importance of the topic? Or does the student understand the importance of the judiciary amongst the political system? Or does the student understand that sexism will only negatively impact society? If no, then he or she gets a bad mark, if yes, they get a good mark. Stop making up reasons for bad marks.
However, one will say; “Well what if the quality of the essay is so ****** I can’t even understand their knowledge?” This proves the instability of essays. Don’t ask for an essay. Ask to talk to the student about the topic. You’ll know if he or she understands. Just like when you go to a retail store and ask for advice about a product. We know if the associate knows what they are talking about, if they have no idea or if they are just telling us what they learned from training (which isn’t bad). Teachers potentially train students in a certain area. Why not ask a question which enforces them to apply the knowledge which they gained from the training to their answer? The teacher will know if the student knows what they are talking about (because they paid attention in training/class) or if they have no idea (because they did not understand or pay attention). Even if they retell you everything that was taught to them. Don’t they know something about the answer? Yes, it’s not the most enriched content because it was your own words but the student learned something right? Isn’t that why they go to school? To learn?
Another will say; “But we can’t escape writing. We have to do it everyday. A person must know how to write.” Fair. But why not teach writing in a writing course? One where the student will be marked on their ability to be clear in writing, or their ability to be grammatically correct, or their word selectiveness, or the sentence and paragraph structure. This seems like an appropriate course to deduct marks for incorrect application of knowledge. However, another person will ask; “then how do you teach structure and grammar?” Through exercises. Ask them to write a paper. Go through assignments as a class, encourage class participation and discussion. If the student doesn’t talk, the teacher will know what they understand therefore, how are they to give them anything but a bad mark? It’s at the student’s discretion but the proper systems need to be in place.
An example; how many people have gotten a paper back, looked at their grade and put the paper away? Did not even look at the corrections or suggestions for reasons why the mark was so poor or decent? Every one. Why not give a student a second chance? Why not scare them to do their best? Try this: Ask students to answer a question, any question. Have them hand it in 10 days from the assigned date. Students who want a good mark will use their time wisely to proof read, get the proper references and apply the correct knowledge. Students who want to get by will start two nights before. Once the papers are handed in, edit them. Once finished, return them without a mark. Wait for the students reaction. They will come up to you asking “what’d I get?”, “why isn’t there a mark?”. Tell them that, they aren’t getting a mark, they need to read the corrections and implement them. Have the paper due in three days. Once the papers are submitted, grade them. There will be less grammatical errors. At least for the students who took the time to read the corrections and implement them. The students who did not, will not receive a high grade a potentially face the threat of a failing grade. Hand the papers back with grades. Once this is done, ask for them to write another essay on a different topic. A topic such as “Should capital punishment be reinforced in Canada?” This topic is ok because you can write about any topic, its still writing. Writing is not confined to topics such as grammar, story writing or essay writing. Writing has infinite topic possibilities. But once the essay topic is given out, tell them they have 10 days to hand it in. Once handed in, give them a grade. Don’t give the chance for editing this time, and see if there is less errors for each student, ask to sit down with them and compare the errors that were made. In this way the student will learn and most importantly remember why and why not to write in certain structures while adding certain grammatical content.
With this exercise the student will learn how to clearly write, but it will take a while. It should be mandatory that students take a writing course throughout elementary and secondary school because the statement is true “we cannot escape writing”. Everyone must know how to write. But in society we struggle to remember that, just because someone can’t write something doesn’t mean they do not understand the topic. If I was to ask Einstein to write a topic on the differences of between time and space in APA format, His content would very well achieve high academic standards but his grammar and format would be god awful. It would be horrendous. He did not know how to write in specific manners, he would use his resources to learn but that was because from what we know he wanted to achieve in the highest manner possible. But he understood the content, and isn’t that what is most important? O the other hand, if I asked him to tell me about the topic, would it be more credible? Would it blow someone’s mind because they couldn’t take away marks. He would receive 100% on everything because he understood the content. That’s all that matters. For those who want to write, take writing courses. Or in today’s society, every context course is a writing course, as students are not be graded on their quality, rather, they are being graded on writing abilities. So to conclude, are we teaching history, science, politics, law, child and youth studies or are we just teaching students how to write without expanding their knowledge of the topic. We can’t base content off of what is written down,  interferences are infinite. ****, I used “can’t”. Sorry.
An Uncommon Poet
Written by
An Uncommon Poet  Caledon, ONT
(Caledon, ONT)   
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