Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I see now that my work is cut out for me

So I gave my students a test. The test was over all the computer topics we had covered thus far, strand 1 of the PSSC prescription. In order to gauge how I am preparing my students for the PSSC test they must take at the end of the year and to give them an idea of what the test is going to be like, I took all my questions from last year's PSSC test.

They failed miserably.

Well, 63 of 66 students failed miserably. In the States the grading scale puts anything below a 70% as failing. However, here in Sāmoa anything below a 50% is failing. Three students got above a 50% on the test. So they passed.

I learned from Ed, the Irish-Australia volunteer (originally from Ireland, recently became a resident of Australia, volunteering in
Sāmoa), that the 50% scale is used in Australia and New Zealand too. But in Ireland he said it was anything less than 40% was failing. I don't want to criticize other countries educational systems or grading scale, but how can a student demonstrate knowledge on less than half of the tested material and still pass? That blows my mind.

I was talking with another teacher about my horrible test. I was explaining that in my mind, if all the students fail a test that shows a failing either on the part of the teacher or the test. If the teacher did a good job teaching than at least one student should have been able to do well on the test or if the test was written properly it would test the knowledge that should have been taught to the students and then at least one should have been able to do well. However, almost all my students did horribly — it must be me or the test. Personally, I thought it was both. I had recently learned that my students don't understand most of what I am saying (I teach in English since the test they have to pass is in English) so they weren't learning the concepts. Also, I knew the PSSC test was hard and that the language of the test questions did  not take into consideration that the people taking the test are ESL. So, in two ways I failed my students. However, the teacher I was talking to disagreed. He seemed to think that the problem was the students. Which I hear a lot here, from teachers who are
Sāmoans themselves. Most of the teachers seem to think that the students are lazy and not that smart.

I started requiring students to come to extra lessons during their free periods. I only require one a week, but they are welcome to come to as many as they want. Unfortunately, this means that I no longer have any free periods either.

Today was my first day of that and man was it exhausting, but also inspiring. I taught all day except first period. I desperately needed to pee by fourth period and was able to sneak away to the bathroom between fifth and sixth periods.

At one point the room was full of students. I have been worried about the time line of my keyboarding section I am teaching the students and whether or not they will be able to learn keyboarding in such a sort period of time. However, I started to feel a lot better about it when I had a room full of students practicing typing two periods today. The computer students love the opportunity to be in the computer lab (it is air-conditioned [newly air conditioned, the school just replaced the air in both labs!]) and to practice typing (cause it is like playing video games. Plus they were just going to be sitting in study hall anyway. So I feel much better about the time they have to learn typing.

I had three extra lesson today and many of the students there really wanted to put forth the effort and learn more. I am trying hard to make things understandable too. I spent all night last night translating my lessons into Samoan. Well, sort off. I do not have the ability to create complex enough sentences or a dictionary with many useful words. However, I tried to create Samoan versions of all my main points and any tough English words. I don't know if it is helping. But I do think that the students appreciate the effort. Plus they get to laugh at my horrible pronunciation and my misspellings (for example, instead of spelling the word for program [polokelama], I managed to spell an nonsense word that started with the derogatory Samoan word for penis).

Anywho, tune in next time when I tell you all about how I became a sports coach.

— Sara


Barb Carusillo said...

You?! A sports coach? I can't wait to hear about that. That interlude into Rugby while as Mizzou must have inspired you. Certainly could not have been your kickball prowess, or your soccer acumen.

jiuri said...


Keep up the good work, don't be discouraged with the result of the test. Its good you are finding this out now and you have time to rectify the problem, imagine if you had such results at the end of the year exam!

I've been a teacher in Samoa and usually these PSSC exams are catered more for those students in Apia, who have good grasp of English. One thing though, you have touched on a good point, that the students don't understand on what you've taught and this is mainly due to the language barrier. I had a Peace Corp as an Accounting teacher and one method that he used, was to get a student who knows the stuff real well and teach, more like tell the others in Samoan what was going on in class. Mind you Samoan students are not used to asking questions as it's seen as not knowing anything, and they will pretend that they've learned something but in fact, they have no clue whatsoever...

Anyways, be positive and know in your heart you are offering your best.
Take care

annette said...

sara, the effort you put forth is commendable!! you are so thoughtful.
you seem to have sorted it out and are making the changes necessary. good luck and cannot wait to hear more! i liked the gals remark before me. i remember when one of cales teachers had him instruct the class on a certain point to help them understand it better.
keep up the good work dear : )

whatever said...

Polo is ball in Samoan, so make your own assumptions.