Tag Archives: monthly tests

There was a leak


It was time to go to bed last night, but I needed to go to the loo because if I don’t, my body will nag at me until I do. I went into the main room and could hear the sound of running water, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from until I went into the bathroom to discover that the tap had sprung a leak. The thing has been dripping for almost all the time I’ve ever been here, but this time there was squirting. (Watch me get inappropriate hits for “squirting”.)

Although the sink and the basin have taps to enable the water to them to be shut off, the bath does’t. I guessed that the only way to kill off the water flow was in one of the cupboards outside, but they all appeared to be locked. With nothing particularly useful at my disposal, I shoved a towel underneath the leak to staunch the flow.

By this morning, things were worse, and the leak had gone from a squirt to a stream. I worked out how to write that I needed the water to be turned off in Chinese, and went to the security office at the main gate. The woman there said nothing would happen until 8.00am, but my rather insistent 现在 sent her off to get one of the security guards who opened the cupboard outside where the water mains are, and turned off the flow to my flat.

I went and saw Polly as soon as I could, who phoned the landlord (who was, fortunately, in town). He came round this afternoon and then went to buy a new tap, and will be back this evening with someone to replace the old tap.

But when I went back to school, I thought about what I’d seen this morning. When the security guard had unlocked the door to the water mains, I’d noticed there was a latch. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but it struck me as a little odd to latch a locked door, and before I got in the lift, I tried the door myself. It wasn’t locked, and possibly hadn’t been locked last night. At least I won’t have to get some security guard to turn the water back on once the tap has been replaced.

I’m not the only one to have plumbing problems. Daniel’s loo had a major blockage problem, and Brendan’s plumbing has also needed repairs this term. (I hasten to add that I am referring to the water bearing infrastructure of the building and none of this is some euphemism about malfunctioning boy parts. [Watch me also get inappropriate hits for “boy parts”.])

I’d also brought AS 2’s tests home and managed to mark my way through just over half of them while I was waiting for my landlord, which was a good use of my time. AS 1&3 have done quite well in the reading test, and AS 2 are doing even ridiculously better. On the other hand, I was brutal with their writing because they deserved it.

There’s not been a lot happening of late. We had another (pointless) monthly test last week, and will have the end of term test in about three weeks from now. The weather has reverted to being clear and cold instead of dull and cold as temperatures slide towards the January-February nadir. The duck ponds have yet to freeze over, but I have no doubt they will shortly.

The headmaster continues to be a miserable sod by not allowing the heating to be turned on in the classrooms. I can’t say why, but being a cynical old bastard, I’m inclined to suspect someone wants a new Series 7 BMW, and heating would prevent him from skimming that little bit extra off the top to get the heated seats, electric windows, and a cup holder.

Look what escaped from the vegetable garden

A Tale of Cabbages.

Carrefour. The moving walkway to the first floor has come to an end. What next? Keep moving? No. Stand waiting for the floor to carry me to my destination because I’m too stupid to think of the impediment I am to others behind me, and too lazy to walk? Yes, and wonder why the electric coolie is no longer ferrying me to my destination.

Later at the checkout. The nice man or lady has given me my receipt. What do I do now? Move hastily on so as not to be a brain-dead nuisance? No. Stand gawping stupidly at the receipt because I’m sure that the shop has made a mistake, and thus get in the way of other customers? Yes, and then wonder why the aliens have blown the planet to pieces because they concluded it wasn’t inhabited by any intelligent lifeforms.

The monthly tests are finally over. We need to do something about factoring in the writing tests if we’re going to do them separately because I’ve had a total of 8½ hours of invigilating over the past two weeks. It’s part of the job I utterly loathe because it’s a colossal waste of my time. Sooner we get professional invigilators in, the better.

I’ve had the time to finish marking PAL 1’s reading tests today, but it never takes that long to deal with reading. It’s writing which is the pain because that’s more likely to send the marker into a mouth-foaming fury from encountering the same inane statements over and over again, which ten years have still not erased from the arsenal of dimwittedness with which Chinese students arm themselves

Oh dear god. Shut up, Mr Needlessly Shouty Person. I don’t want to hear you in the morning or the evening. Your shouting is irksome, annoying, and unnecessary, and not a form of exercise. Perhaps you’re shouting because you’re angry with Mrs Needlessly Shouty Person, who has you under her thumb, or perhaps you’re pissed off at another 60 years of abuses on top of the previous 2,500 years of unenlightened, authoritarian rule. I don’t care why you’re shouting. You can rage ineffectually on Weibo and give the rest of us some peace and quiet.

Another nightmare ends

You’ve all done very mediocrely.

I finally managed to finish marking the AS tests this morning with the pressure on me to add the marks to this online database we now have. The Economics class averaged 55% because that’s what being arrogant and fat-headed gets you, while the Business class averaged 59% because they at least put some effort in.

I wasn’t being slow doing the marking, but since each piece of drivelsome writing was taking me 15 to 20 minutes to mark, I needed time away from writing which was hurting me mentally and physically. I don’t know whether the IELTS band descriptors still describe writing as placing a strain on the reader, but this stuff placed a strain on me. (I have to confess that I’m going to tell the little darlings that “stuff” is not appropriate in formal written English. This isn’t, of course, formal writing.)

The students can’t write cohesively; they can use paragraphs, but only crudely as they insist that everything about a particular main idea must be in the same paragraph; they’ve obviously been taught to place the topic sentence at the end of the introductory paragraph, but they haven’t been taught that the rest of the paragraph needs to be interesting and engaging. Oh, hang on. They have no idea how to write in an interesting and engaging way.

They still won’t be able to grasp that their English is a long way from being up to university standard even when the evidence is in front of them.

On your marks

That’s over and, pretty much, so’s the weekend.

I managed to finish off the rest of PAL 2’s tests today. Since most of them are getting the equivalent of a C in the Core exam (which is the highest mark they can get), I’m going to switch to the Extended exam next time.

While I believe they should do well enough in reading at Extended level, I think they might not do so well in their writing. Once again, as I was dishing out ludicrously good marks for writing which was so reliant on clichés, I kept wondering whether I’d give the Content or the Language a mark above a five, and the answer was, by and large, no.

I seem to have polished these tests off rather more quickly than last time, which is a relief. I was still working on them late into the evening last time.

I did do some shopping today, espying Concubine 太太 as I went into Baoli. It’s been a little more pleasant over the past couple of days, but not to the extent that I’d wear a skirt so short that I’d expose my knickers if I bent over, went up stairs, or got out of any sort of car. Yes, it was Dress-like-a-Porn-Star Day again, and Concubine 太太 wasn’t alone.

More marking

Yet another monthly test.

Thanks to a minimal amount of invigilation during this latest bout of monthly tests, I managed to mark all of PAL 1’s papers yesterday although I did almost nothing else in the course of the day. The results were pretty much the same as they were last time, but that was to be expected.

The writing was also much the same as last time, which means dull, repetitive and unimaginative. My campaign to try and get them to be interesting in their writing seems to have failed somewhat. I had quite a few of them inform a friend that among the items they should bring with them on holiday were clothes and a toothbrush. Most merely told their friend to bring clothes; a few advised the friend to bring warm clothing because it’s getting cold here; one said that it was necessary for clothes to be brought because his own wouldn’t fit his more sizeable overseas visitor.

The other writing exercise was about the benefits of a good teacher, but students were unable to frame their response in an appropriate style. Quite a number wrote a letter instead of an article, which I was expecting. A few babbled on about their parents being their teachers, and some about their teachers being their (substitute) parents, who teach them how to behave and how to be men. (I think that means “adults”.) I’ve seen this sort of thing before, and it gets no more interesting on repeated viewings.

Will PAL 2 have done any better? I doubt it.

But first, I need to go and pay the electricity bill which got stuck to my door this morning.

Afterwards. There was only a short queue in the State Grid building, which had lengthened by the time I paid because the clown boy ahead of me had a bill of ¥1176 (哎呀!) which he paid using ¥10 and ¥20 notes. What a genius.

And suddenly it was over

The end of marking.

I was looking at AS3’s tests last night and wondering whether I could finish them off before I had to go to bed. I picked up the next one and found that the remaining half a dozen were actually spare copies of the paper.

The results were where I’d expect them to be. With a little crude conversion, the average mark for both classes is probably somewhere on the border between IELTS 5.5 and 6.0; or, to put it verbally, the fringes of the upper intermediate zone. The averages for my two classes were 58% and 59%, and roughly agreed with the averages for Mark’s classes.

The reading, over which I had no real control, was still in that border zone I mentioned above. The one girl who got full marks had probably seen the questions before because she’s otherwise an inattentive dullard in class. She was the one who asked me to find information for her about the organic farm volunteer scheme, which she should’ve been able to do herself if her reading proficiency is so brilliant.

I did rather blast their writing to shreds. The topic wasn’t an easy one for a start, but there were just too many flaws: failures to fulfil the task; incoherence; unsuitable vocabulary; incompetent handling of grammatical structures. The average for the writing was much the same as the overall average, but that’s where the little darlings are.

Very grey and hazy this morning, and it had to rain. The latest I’ve seen is that there’s a cold front heading our way, which will be the late October/early November cold snap.

Still marking

A sea of red ink.

It’s been a little difficult accessing the real Internet for the past couple of days although that’s not the main reason for not posting much. I’ve been feeling too tired to write anything and I’ve been busy with the aftermath of last week’s tests.

The marking of the AS English tests from last week drag on as I wade my way through them with no great enthusiasm. Each one ends up drenched in red ink as I observe how illogical the little darlings’ arguments are, how vague, and how ungrammatical. I warn them about starting with nowadays, and I’ve reminded them that because is not always preceded by a full stop; and I need to remind them again that and and but are also not always preceded by a full stop either.

There’s also the puzzle of the missing and, which has me wondering whether it’s a feature of the local language. The conjunction is often omitted between two phrases, which makes me wonder whether the local language employs dvandva compounding. The other possibility is that they think the tripartite A, B, and C structure which English likes so much can be legitimately reduced to A, B.

The AS students are in for a little shock, though, because we’re using an EAP mark scheme, which reveals most of them to be academically D-grade students. We’ve ameliorated that a little by adding 10% which, if I’m asked, is the Neat Handwriting Bonus.

Anyway, time flies and I need a break. It’s been a long day, which was ended with a long staff meeting, and I need to indulge in some escapism, and will as soon as my Internet assistant is back.

I want to answer the question


We gave the little darlings their first monthly tests on Thursday and Friday, and I just finished marking PAL 1’s efforts before lunch. The marks are fairly good overall being A’s almost without exception. As usual, they’re nearly all writing the same answers to the two writing tasks and they’re all exceptionally dull.

The response to the first writing task, which is a letter to a long-lost family member tends to run:

I haven’t seen you for a long time. I miss you so much. I remember we played together when we were children.

I’ve become interested in badminton/tennis these days. You play badminton/tennis, don’t you? We can play together.

We can go to the restaurant when you come. I’m looking forward to seeing you.

And in outline, that’s pretty much the whole letter. It does have me wondering how I or any other native speaker might deal with a letter (well, let’s be honest, mail message) to some relative we haven’t seen in a long time.

Dear Aunt Sadie,

Mum and Dad have just told me that you never really were dead, but have actually been on an archaeological dig in the unfashionable part of central Africa, uncovering a lost civilisation of zombies which was ruled over by dimension-jumping vampires. I haven’t forgotten the days when you used to come crashing through the window in the middle of a sword fight with Count von Zarovich, scoop up a couple of scones from the coffee table, and crash out again. Life round here has never been half as exciting since and I’m sure you’ll have plenty of tales to tell me about your time in Africa. I’m really looking forward to catching up with you.

Life for me has changed as well. I think the last time I saw you I was quite keen on dinosaurs, collecting cheese, and the One-legged Midget Football League. That’s all passed into history. These days I spend my time stalking celebrity lookalikes, ordering furniture and having it sent to the wrong address, and building a life-sized replica of the Great Pyramid out of peaches – authentic in every detail. All great fun.

We must have a big celebration when you return before Mum and Dad start demanding the money back for the cost of the funeral which we held for you when you allegedly died. Would it be too ironic to have dinner at the old railway station, which is supposedly inhabited by the ghost of a commuter whose spirit will haunt the place until the train arrives on time? But perhaps you’ve had enough of the dead from digging up zombies and vampires.

Anyway, I’ll see you when you get back.

All the best,

Mr Bamboo.

Now, should I be waiting for comments from EFL teachers who, having assigned their students such a task, wonder why the letter is full of vampires, zombies, and central African civilisations?

Students, be original, imaginative, and write your own letters. A lack of English ≠ a lack of imagination.

There’s a reason for weekends

Finally the week is over.

Working for seven days in a row is proof of the necessity of having a weekend. We’ve had our monthly tests over the past two days, which isn’t really quite as relaxing as it sounds because we’ve ended up invigilating for the equivalent of four classes, two at a time without a break. At the end up that, we then have stacks of marking to do, which will kill off quite a chunk of this weekend.

I was having a look at the critical thinking book which appeared on my desk this morning. Lisa the Librarian said she’d seen it among the books which have been dripping into her library over the past few weeks. I open the book, and there are pictures of Hitler and some Stasi officers, who look like they might be taking part in some gay revue called Germans in Puffy Trousers. There are pictures of the covers of low-brow magazine which I now realise are there to keep the boys interested, and there’s also a picture of a couple of women sunbathing in a London park. There’s quite an interesting juxtaposition across two pages later in the book with Osama bin Laden on one and sperm clustering round an ovum on another.

The book, Critical Thinking for OCR AS Level by Rob Jones and Michael Haralambos, might have some saucy pictures (I can’t imagine such pictures in school textbooks when I was in the 6th form), but it actually looks quite interesting. There is some stuff in it I could do with my AS classes. For example, I noticed a section on arguments in writing which would be useful for the AS students in so many ways.

It’s a pity that we just don’t have the time to deal with all this stuff. Apart from the TOEFL book and Listening to Learn, I’m also dishing out units from a book called Advanced Vocabulary in Context because of students’ annoying mania for those somewhat useless TOEFL and IELTS word list books. AViC takes a themed approach and focuses quite a bit on collocations, which is an aspect of English which seems neglected at intermediate level.

However, I’m afraid I have to cut this short or I’ll end up neglecting my tea.

Grey and anonymous

Could life be more bland?

It’s monthly test day today, which largely means nothing in English because it’s too soon to measure anything substantive about the progress of students in English. Actually, the test is really a measure of their ability to listen to my advice and see whether they’ve followed it.

While we have the tests today, we also have the progress reports to deal with. These are short reports which will allow us to track our little darlings’ progress or inertia. As I was doing some of the reports this morning, it struck me that a lot of my students are anonymous, and the most anonymous ones are the girls. There are quite a few names which I still can’t put to faces because there’s no personality to link them. I have got some good kids in the PAL classes this year, and they stand out, but there are also quite a few who would’ve said, “I’m not” when Brian told the crowd that they were all different.

I’ve got, but haven’t glanced at the test I gave the AS classes. It’ll be interesting to compare their performance with AS1’s last year. Can AS2 be even worse? Or will that award go to individual dunces in the class?

The weather seems to have shifted its mood so as to be as bland and dull as some of my students. Yesterday afternoon the haze (whatever it’s actually constituted of) got thicker until Xihui Park, which is just on the other side of the Grand Canal, almost completely vanished. There was a little rain when I left school yesterday afternoon, but nothing more substantial until I happened to be invigilating the English exam this morning.

I was going to go to Carrefour to do some shopping before I have to go back to school to do some more invigilating this afternoon, but that opportunity is slipping because of the unsettled weather.

You can relax and have a snooze.

With all the hammering that’s going on? Chance would be a fine thing. Yes, the ubiquitous worker is banging away with his hammer somewhere in the building, no doubt on the orders of some corrupt official who’s probably driving around in his new Mercedes-Benz.

On that note, I saw another three new Mercs this morning on my fairly short trip to school. When I was a boy, the chance of seeing a sports or luxury car was extremely remote. Here, they’re an everyday occurrence. The BMW Z4 (£29,700 to £44,000; not quite as expensive as I thought it might be) was back again on the far side of the bridge yesterday, but they’ve been doing some work on the pavement in front of the shops there, which appears to mean that people have been forced to park on the side of the road.