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Literacies

June 19, 2007

The literacies we contend with today seem to have increased greatly from my youth.  And when we don’t get them right, we can look a little foolish as does my bank trying to emphasize how up-to-date they are.  I pointed out to a teller the problem with advertising free identity theft months ago, but it seems to be a company advertising campaign. It resembles an imperfect understanding of another culture.

As my class moves through the last week and we ramped up some of the testing, I see some of the misunderstandings that have occurred and hope I still have some time to provide useful feedback.  We use mostly completion and fill in the blank types of questions on listening tests which challenge students and teachers.  I am challenged on some listening tests to consider the answers
given that come close to what the target and whether to accept them or
not.  In class when a student explains how they got the answer they did, which sometimes shows an intelligent form of understanding the meaning, I tend to accept their answer even though it doesn’t match exactly the key. 

Accepting meaningful though not exact answers for me has involved reexamining what the purpose of the tests is which to me is comprehension of the meaning not of reproducing the exact word.  Admittedly, a student could give a correct answer not because they understood exactly what the person on the tape said, but they understood the meaning through their understanding of the world.  But isn’t that really what comprehension is? 

Sometimes, I misunderstand their answers because I expect the answers on the test to match the key.  When I do that, I think I am less of a teacher than when I experience their answers as their constructing a meaning to fit the test item.  Answers that show understanding should be given credit; answers that show misunderstanding still need feedback indicating the misunderstanding.  Perhaps this has been obvious to others from the beginning, but for me it has come from learning not to be too literal in understanding the students answers. 

As for the bank, I know what they meant to say even as I smile at their error, but if they were in my class they wouldn’t get any points for that mistake.  It clearly shows a misunderstanding.

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