Jump to content

English corrections for non-native speakers in science class


Recommended Posts

Hi there! I'm TAing geography classes this term and have several international students who are struggling with English - extensive misspellings, odd turns of phrase, and grammatical errors. Should I grade them to the same standard that I would punish native English speakers for writing so sloppily, or cut them slack? Would it be seen as picking on them to offer corrections, even if I don't take points off? The professor just told me to "use my best judgement" but I need some help calibrating it.

Opinions from people who had to learn English in school or as adults are appreciated!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Okay, so two thoughts here. First, if this is not a writing-intensive course, writing probably shouldn't carry an overly sized weight in grading. Second, unless there are rules explicitly privileging non-native speakers in some way, I think you need to grade everyone equally. Now, offering extensive writing advice is probably not part of your job description here (again, unless it's a writing-intensive course), so whatever you offer is up to you. For me, it seems that students with extensive problems don't get that much out of TAs correcting their work; many of them never look at their assignments or comments that closely (or at all), and they're often so far behind that they don't know how to pick the major comments from the minor ones, and just get overwhelmed. If there's a writing center at your school, that's really the place to send them to. If you are so inclined, you could offer either a re-grade of the writing (as opposed to content!) component of the assignment once they've visited the writing center, as an incentive for them to actually work on it, or give them an extension to work on their writing, but then grade as you would anyone else. It's up to you and how much extra work you're willing to put in. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello! I learned English at a fairly young age, but I have been in a similar position as you where I graded work from students with a wide range of language abilities.

As fuzzy said, if this is not a science writing class, I would not put writing ability as a major grading criteria (personally I don't use that as a criteria at all). I also agree that you should grade everyone to the same standard.

However, I want to clarify that you can/should set the standard to be what you feel is right and what your professor says. In this case, since your professor says to use your best judgement, you are given leeway to decide how you want to set the standard.

For instance, if you do not want to punish anyone for misspellings, odd turns of phrase or grammatical errors, then you could decide that these things carry zero weight in your grading. This way, no one's grades will be impacted due to their writing. It is fair and equal if you do this for all students, instead of allowing these to slip by for non-native speakers yet punish native speakers. (Note: how do you even decide who is a native speaker and who isn't, anyways?).

When I grade science homework assignments, I never deduct points for the types of mistakes you list here. My evaluation criteria is to determine whether or not the student understands whatever concept the question was asking. So, I don't really care if they misspell words (unless their misspelling changes the meaning of the sentence to an incorrect answer). I do grade for how well the student explains their work though, so I have actually given higher grades in the "clarity" part of my rubric to students who write out what they did (even with tons of spelling errors) than for students who don't explain anything at all. As long as I can still understand their work with a reasonable amount of effort, it is treated the same to me.

I'd also second fuzzy's suggestion to direct students to the writing center if you think they can benefit from that resource. I really like the suggestion to regrade the writing only (if you were grading on writing) as an incentive for students to resubmit previous work.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In a non-writing intensive course, I would not spend time correcting mistakes like these or penalizing them unless they interfere with your ability to comprehend the answer and evaluate whether it is appropriate/correct. Definitely direct students to the writing center. If there is a ESL specialist, you may want to include their name so students know who to contact. 

In a course where writing is a key component (e.g., scientific writing, writing/research in the discipline), my approach would differ. In that case, I would meet with the student(s) individually to discuss ways in which to improve their work. Note that I do this for all students early in the semester. In those meetings, I try to walk through at least a page of their paper and explain to them what came to mind as I was reading the paper initially. This helps them see my thought process and also understand the key issues as I was grading. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.