I have finished grading the research papers for Architecture Trade School. It wasn't easy, however. For the first time in all my years of teaching I had about 4 or 5 students with major English language issues. In the case of at least one student I believe that his language skill acted as a huge barrier to his articulation of the course material. So much so that I could not understand what he did and did not learn.
The problem was also that I had asked these students to turn in a final research paper as a course project. The length of the paper was to be approximately 8-10 pages. Since this was my first semester teaching at this school I realize that my assessment methods may not have been appropriate for this particular group of students. In fact, most of my students had a really difficult time writing this paper. Even those without language issues. But, not having any familiarity with the school or its student population I had to go with my previous experience as a my only guide.
I have graded a series of papers some of which I worry are partially plagiarized because I know there is no way that ESL student A could have written this. Other papers are written in incomplete sentences almost as if in a note-taking format. I read proposals and met individually with each student to discuss their progress, but unfortunately no matter how I tried to get them to learn the process of writing a research paper I know that most of them probably did not start to take it seriously until the last week or two weeks of school.
So how do I grade these papers? What about student A who copies from Wikipedia because he can't see any other way to complete the assignment? I gave out a lot of C's on this paper. I figured that failing the project would be an exaggerated reaction because I know the student tried his best, but was probably very frustrated.
Overall, I feel like I failed this class. I gave them a project that was too hard for them and I didn't help them to work through it. It was clear in the end that they needed much more time dedicated to working through simple questions of how to conduct research. If I get the opportunity to teach at this school again (not that I'm clamoring for an opportunity) at least I will come much more prepared and with a more realistic understanding of we can and can't accomplish in the class.