It’s that time of the year: the flow of the red ink



Teaching has its ups and downs: like any job. At this time of the South African high school academic year it’s mid-year exams. The time for the red ink to flow.

When I was studying my lecturer advised us to use green or blue ink to mark. He said that the red was too intimidating; too aggressive. He was right. It looks like I’ve massacred a poor student’s thoughts and answers. (I’d name this lecturer but I remember once he was offended someone had put up a picture of him on Facebook without his permission. I’d rather play it safe.)

Marking exams (or as my US colleagues say ‘grading papers’) is one of the tedious aspects of teaching. It’s a great way to see how your students test; what their responses are to the exam period. But it is both disheartening and enlightening. 

Perhaps my perspective on the disheartening aspect of exams has two folds. One, it’s saddening because I know how much I prepared the students for exams. I know how much work I put into the lessons to help them remember. And when the time came, they didn’t reflect their knowledge as well as I KNOW they could have. But the second aspect is quite simple: the design of exams leaves little room for success. 

Why write exams? This one test which counts heavily to your mark will determine the reflection of your attitude and aptitude. Nonsense. We all have at least one subject we didn’t test well in: this is normal. Creative beings as we are can’t be expected to retain EVERYTHING. And much less for a budding adolescent. I have my reservations about the testing system – in general.

But so it goes. Testing is here to stay. I suspect that for my next academic term I will aim to prepare my students on how to THINK rather than retain. Thinking takes you places; shapes how you see the world much better than just how much you can remember.