Monday, November 21, 2011

Should ESL Students Receive Extra Consideration?

Saturday, I spent 12 hours judging high school debate competitions. I love it. I love watching the teenagers interact. And I love listening to them converse with one another before, during, and after a competition.

The thing I don't love is being told to be nicer to the students when filling out my ballot sheet. Am I really the only adult who thinks teenagers should be told the truth? Don't get me wrong ... I don't write on the ballot: "You're ugly. You're snotty. Your breath stinks."

Instead, I give a compliment first, and then note the negative things (if any) about their presentation. If I don't ... how can they know what to improve on? For example, one mean thing I wrote (after giving a compliment) was: "If you feel the need to constantly fidget with the hemline of your skirt, maybe you should consider wearing something else next time, because the fidgeting is very distracting." Another mean thing I wrote, "Your facial expression comes across as very angry. Is this what you want to portray?"

My daughter is a competitor, and she would rather the judge tell her what she could improve on, specifically, rather than give vague generic responses.

So ... I turned in a ballot at the tabulation table, and a debate coach (teacher) from one of the high schools handed the ballot back to me, and said, "You scored them too low. Rescore it."

I (being the kind lovely patient person that I am) said, "No."

The coach turned to the coach sitting next to her and said, "Are you going to let her get away with this?"

HA. Clearly, she does not know me.

The second judge said, "Were they really that bad?"

I said, "Yes. I scored them appropriately."

Second coach lowered her voice and said, "Well, this competitor is an English-Second-Language student, so maybe we should just give her some extra consideration."

WHAT?! Heck no.

I don't care if English is your second language. I've judged PLENTY of foreign-exchange students (this student was not a foreign-exchange student), and they've performed excellently.

Heck no.

I asked my 15-year-old daughter if she thought I was being too mean (granted, she's biased and may be in fear of punishment or something) ... she agreed with my reasoning. How can someone improve if the only thing they ever hear is, "Great job!" ??

Now, I have to tell you, I judged a lot of competitions Saturday that were blow-your-mind-amazing. These students are SO SMART. Debating about complicated moral, ethical, and governmental issues ... they were prepared, well spoken, and sharp. It was a pleasure to watch, and I was so sad that one of them would not advance because of my decision. And, that especially, is when I think it's crucial for a judge to explain on the ballot why one person was chosen over the other.

Another thing to note, when my daughter and I first arrived, we walked through the cafeteria (where the students congregate and wait for their next debate), and I smiled, because everyone was squeaky clean and smelling good. At the end of the day, that cafeteria is NOT where you want to be! Then, they are sweaty, stinky, and sporting their slippers, pj's, and hoodies. Evolution.

Anyhow. The question of the day is: Do you think ESL students should be given extra consideration (whether in class or in a competition)??


  1. Because I'm down in Mexico and work with many people whose English is their second language, I am more lenient. However, if you're in a competition, I think all participants should be judged the same.

  2. Your comments aren't mean, they're helpful and if the participant takes them to heart it may just make the difference between winning and losing in their next competition.

    Also, I'm not a fan of being more lenient with one group than another. Awarding someone points they didn't deserve won't help that person, or make them strive to be better next time.

    Christi Corbett

  3. Well, since they are there to be judged, constructive criticism should be expected. In a competition, I don't think anyone should be given special consideration. Not fair to the others.

  4. It's good that you actually critiqued them. People can't grow up fearing negative responses. They'll never improve.

    As for the ESL thing, no I don't think they should be given extra consideration. ESL students might need extra help with reading and understanding English, but this was a debate competition. Being able to skillfully prove your argument is the whole point.

  5. I couldn't agree more. I definitely think we are doing a great disservice to our kids today by being too "nice" to them. I'm not saying start calling them stupid and dumb but giving honest feedback "this is what you did right and here's a few areas you could improve upon". Not only does being "nice" keep them from reaching their full potential, it also keeps them from learning how to constructive criticism. Kids (and some adults) today do not realize the importance of being able to take feedback and learn how to use it and to answer your question (finally lol) no I don't think ESL students should be given extra consideration. If the debate is in English, then I would expect them to be able to compete on the level with their peers regardless of what their first language is. It is unfair to the kids whose first language is english. That's my two cents lol for what it's worth.

  6. Yup, I totally agree. Especially in a competition setting, it's important for people to be judged fairly and equally, and if they ever want to win in the future, they need to know how they can improve!