the question of the exclamation mark

22 May

so i receive this piece of assignment that i submitted 2 weeks ago. was really excited to get it back because it was a critical review of a paper that was published by “the most awarded man in biogeography” as quoted by my lecturer. i thought, “how wrong can a published paper be?” turns out, i picked out several errors – wondering if i was shooting myself in the arse.

so receiving a high distinction for this assignment was supposed to be like such an affirmation. and i was supposed to be happy. except that seeing this comment on my paper just threw me off.

haha! imagine me walking along the pavement back to the library and i speak to the world, “Bloody hell! you comment on MY paper with an EXCLAMATION MARK!!?!??!?!”

and i was at it for a while.

until it struck me. i write comments with a larger font that what was used on mine. i use a pen that is redder than what was used on mine. and for what its worth, i dont just use one exclamation mark. it usually comes in threes, and sometimes mixed with question marks. and sometimes a sad face.

seriously, i want to know how students take it. cos i was never a fantastic student in sch myself and receiving ‘complaints to parents’ was like a usual thing. so i probably never took note of how my teachers’ marking affected me cos i knew i was a terrible student.

but this one was different. i had put in much thought and effort into it. and i feel intelligent enough to say, if you didnt understand what i meant to say, dont say “redundant” and add an exclamation mark! (of course, if the marker didnt understand it, i probably didnt write it well enough)

anyway, i spent a few hours reflecting and laughed with my landlord about it.

funny, the things people remember of their teacher.

one of my students remembers me telling her (and her friend) to leave the classroom cos her friend was talking to her. she’s a good kid. and up till sec 4, she tells me i was terrible to send her out. we laugh at it now, but still, that is still a memory. (at least we worked it out)

i dont know when i got used to exclamation marks. maybe from JC. when seeing exclamation marks were a common thing. it could mean one of 2 things. the answer was terrible, during when we feel like “how the hell do we get it right?!??!!!” or, the answer was fantastic, during when we feel like “i knew i was a genius”

i guess we learnt to not take the exclamation marks personally.

but perhaps doing that to a sec 1 kid, with red ink and large crosses – now i think that must be quite frightening. you have got to understand, for a teacher who has marked 300 scripts with the most kids-say-the-darnest-things kinda answers, after a while, the crosses and comments just get bigger and bigger…

so then who can we do it to? those we have good rapport with, and those whom we think can handle the exclamation marks?

i asked my landlord, “how else can i say what i want to say?”

and she replies, “just write ‘see me'”

now we all know that wont work. tried and tested. i wouldnt. that was how terrible a student i was!

but to be fair to teachers, comments (not derogatory ones) on scripts do establish some sort of a connection. we cant speak to each and every student, but we can write on each and every script. when my JC chem teacher wrote on my scripts, it was as if she was speaking to me. i could hear her scream at me through her comments and exclamation marks. so did my JC math teacher. thats my earliest memory of seeing comments and exclamation marks on my papers and perhaps thats where i learnt it from.

while i think the younger kids may get startled by the big, red, exclamation marks, i think the older students dont really take it personally. or maybe we just got used to it and moved on.

fact is, there’s nothing like positive comments that makes a kid smile (for most of them at least). it always helps to know that someone else thinks that your work was good. at least for me. thats positive affirmation. and i believe that even the most confident of person can crumble if negative comments are consistently make.

so maybe if there’s nothing positive to say abt that script, perhaps its best to leave things unsaid? to be practical, that doesnt  happen. we are most often disappointed if we cant say something positive abt a person’s script. and to convey our disappointment that our individual high expectations a kid isnt met seems to be the way to go. perhaps not the best with exclamation marks, cos that conveys anger more than disappointment. so we got to rethink what we intend to say and what we are actually saying with the exclamation marks.

either way, ive come to the conclusion, after a few hrs of reflection, that i will refrain from using exclamation marks for wrong answers for sec 1 kids. they are still primary sch and i shouldnt scare them at sec 1.

i have also come to the conclusion that i will refrain from using exclamation marks for students whom i know have put in effort. for these students, negative exclamation marks must surely hurt.

and i have come to the conclusion that i shouldnt mark scripts with emotions. cos that translates into marking more aggressively. and pity the kid who gets the biggest cross for a small careless mistake. i plead guilty.

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Posted by on May 22, 2012 in i-Reflect, i-Teach


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