I have been known on occasion to get it wrong. As a teacher, I mean, not as a human. Humans always get it wrong. Teachers, having super-human attributes,
only sometimes get it wrong. They give exercises that are too hard, or too easy; they confuse students with over-complex tasks and instructions; they
provide too much information, or too little; they bore their students, or terrify them, or forget to show up, or wrap up early. And so on.
The root of much of our error is level. Level is a messy business, hard to define. The Common European Framework (B2, C1, A2 etc.) is so broad as to be almost an admission that greater precision is impossible. Experienced teachers (and at OISE we are all hyper-experienced, it goes without saying) can match students to a band, usually by a process known to psychologists as intensity matching. Intensity matching allows us to compare such disparate phenomena as crime and colours (in psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s words, ‘if crimes were colours, murder would be a deeper shade of red than theft’), or pleasure and volume – experimenters have asked subjects to raise volume knobs according to their estimation of the pleasure they would get from eating various foods, for instance.
Intensity matching is what psychologists refer to as a System 1 operation. The capacity to match intensity over a spectrum of different things is intuitive, automatic. Thus in assessing level we are falling back upon our experience, our intuitions of our students; we pick up on tiny signals and amplify them. We know, or think we know, what are students are capable of or not capable of.
But to repeat, we get it wrong. The only hope, in our fallen state, is that from time to time we can salvage something of value from the wreck of a lesson – a general rule, a nugget of vocabulary, a sense of what remains to be done. Or an understanding, on the part of students, of what a System 1 operation looks like when, as so often, it goes wrong.