Several weeks ago I sent home progress reports indicating each learner’s grade as well as class rank, which obviously put all the bright learners into a competitive frenzy. This is most evident by the recent behavior of Martha, one of my 6B learners who is currently number 1 and desperate to keep it that way. The other day I assigned classwork to be completed while I was outside of the classroom, doing “Reading Aloud” assessments of each learner. Martha’s group, for some reason, decided to complete their classwork on the last page of their English exercise book. When I went to mark the assignment I didn’t know this, so I was completely confused. Martha’s group has many bright learners in it and I found it incredibly odd that they would shirk off their classwork, but I gave each of them a 0%, being as I saw no completed assignment where it should have been. Once I returned their marked books I quickly wished I had just asked them about it before writing a big “E” in red pen on their books (There is no F here). Poor Martha came running towards me, tears running down her face, blubbering incoherently and furiously flipping through her exercise book. “It is here, Miss Kathryn, it is here!” she kept saying, pushing the book in my face and looking so desperate that it broke my heart in two.
Once I explained that I simply hadn’t seen the assignment and that she would get credit her tears dried up, but she is still obviously on edge about slipping in the ranks. A few days later I had the class complete a really simple exercise that just focused on their following directions with words such as underline, circle, define, etc., and Martha circled where she should have underlined. She realized this before turning it in, and scribbled out the circles and drew the thickest line under each answer, making it obvious that she had caught her own mistake, but she still felt the need to include a note to me: “miss Kathryn don’t take my point because I was not understand.” I wish I could assure her that her victory was guaranteed, but Paulina (the learner who mopped my house!) is a close second and seems determined to win. Each time I hand back an exercise to Paulina, I tell her what a good job she has done. Before the progress report, her response would be a proud smile. Now it’s generally, “And what about Martha?”
I can’t decide if the competition is healthy or not, but I’m quite sure that it has motivated the top learners to really step it up in the last few weeks, so I hope that outweighs any of the negative consequences!
Martha is the timid girl on the left! The classroom is set up in “groups,” so there are clusters of desks rather than rows. This is based on the “learner-centered” approach that the Ministry is attempting to implement in the schools. This picture was taken after a class competition of what group could list the most adjectives and their antonyms. The group is (from left): Martha, Tuyenikelao, Elizabeth, Bertha, and Benhard.