Grammar Review

Freshman English at my college requires that you pass the state test at a certain level before you get in. If your scores are too low, you have to pass a remedial course as well as the state test.

Then you are in a Freshman English course. Perhaps mine. It’s a pretty full course. We write five essays: narrative, descriptive, process, compare/contrast, and illustration/definition. We also write two research papers. They are both over the same controversial topic. The first paper is a paper arguing for the side the student disagrees with. The second is a paper arguing for the side with which the student agrees. We also have an in-class essay which is the final.

I have many students drop out. Apparently my version of the class is much more rigorous than others. I have reasons for that, but obviously someone who is not committed to the class isn’t going to stay in.

So, for example, I had 50 students to start with this semester. I have had 19 drop. So I have 31 students left. (Much more manageable class size for an intensive writing course.)

In order to pass Freshman English, a student must not only make decent grades in the course, they must also pass a grammar test. There are 50 questions and the student only has to answer 26 correctly, but many students don’t pass on the first try. Only three tries are allowed. Then I am required to fail the student.

Obviously I don’t want to fail people who are trying, so I set a re-take date, give the students recommendations for tutors, and then go forward. I check their tests. If they still haven’t passed, I encourage them to get more tutoring and there is a second re-take date set. I require that the third attempt be made before the drop date, so that if the student fails, they can get out of the class without failing.

Of the 31 still in class, 9 have not passed their second test. Of those 9, 6 showed up for my grammar review.

I was a bit confused as to what to do for the grammar review. The students who cared had gone to the “wonder worker” tutor that our chair recommended. How was I going to help them? I couldn’t teach them every rule of grammar that they needed to know.

I got copies of the practice exam, which I have been told is “just like” the real test. And I went through the test, talking outloud, saying what I would do if I were taking it. This, as I was reminded today, is called “modeling: the teacher ‘puts his/her mind on display'” (Math teacher at Casting Out Nines.)

It was time consuming. It took about half an hour longer than the test is supposed to take. (They actually don’t time you on the test.)

But I talked it through. And the students who were there all said it helped immensely. We will see. In half an hour I will go pick up their third attempts. Hopefully they will have passed.

Update: Unfortunately, only four of the seven who took the test passed. Three of the students who came to the review did not pass. It was very hard to give those failing notices to the students who did not pass. One cried. And I wanted to cry as well.

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