A Little Scene: Procedurally Speaking

“You understand why you are here?”

“No, I don’t know. No one’s told me.”

“You should have been informed already.”

“No, no one said anything. I just came when I was asked.”

“Right, we’ll get to that in a few minutes. Is this your first time here?”

“Yes. I’ve never been here before.”

“You are quite polite, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes. Shouldn’t I be?”

“That really depends on how you view your situation.”

“What situation?”

“Do I really have to spell it all out for you? This is what you should have expected.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It doesn’t matter at this stage. Not everyone understands everything happening around them. We take so much for granted—assuming that life moves on systematically and orderly, but it doesn’t. Patterns notwithstanding.”

“Have I been disorderly?”

“You certainly ask a lot of questions, don’t you?”

“I just want to understand why I am here, and you seem to be talking about everything but that.”

“I see that polite is starting to wear off a bit.”

“I don’t mean to be impatient—it’s just that I am quite busy, so I’d like to hurry along, when we are finished.”

“I see. This may take some time, so it’s better if you clear your calendar.”

“The whole day?”

“How far ahead have you planned?”

“Wait, I was expecting to get back in an hour, or at lunch at the latest. Now you are talking about my calendar? I can’t clear out my work schedule—for how long? Indefinitely?

“Mr. Henry, I understand that this is unexpected, and I don’t want you to worry about what is happening with your work. Everything will be taken care of. Just let the system work as it has been designed. You aren’t the first to come in here with concerns like this.”

“You are patronizing me. I don’t need coddling. I want some explanation of what this is about and how long I will be kept from work.”

“No one is indispensible, Mr. Henry. And I would appreciate it if you would allow me to do my job so I can move on to the next person. You aren’t the only one on my list today.”

“Can you answer my questions? You can’t, can you.”

“I will in good time, but we need to move through the process as it is designed. There is no other way.”

“Why am I here?”

“I have explained this already.”

“No, you haven’t. I want to talk to your superior.”

“He is in meetings already this morning. He would not be able to see you until after lunch. It would be much faster if we continue this process until it is finished.”

“You really have this down, don’t you. You are trained to ‘deal with people like me.’ Aren’t you?”

“Please, be patient. We’ll get through this as quickly as possible.”

“Alright, then. When will we be finished?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t say how long this—”

“Can someone else in this place help me? Anyone? Hello?”

“Mr. Hendeman, is there trouble here?”

“Yes, Mr. Henry is not allowing me to complete the process.”

“Mr. Henry, I’m Mr. Place. We can go into my office and talk.”

“Finally, I’m getting somewhere.”

“My office is just down here. You can take a seat. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Henry. I had to do some preliminary files.”

“I’ve been here waiting for 15 minutes. What kind of an office is this where people are kept tied up with nothing happening? I could be at work already.”

“True, true. These matters always seem to take longer than anyone us suspect. Now, how can I help you?”

“I was called in this morning, and so I came. Now I can’t seem to get any answers to why I am here. That Mr.—I don’t remember his name—”


“Hindeman won’t tell me anything.”

“Mr. Hindeman is only following protocol. He is doing his job as he has been trained.”

“Well, it’s not efficient. It’s terrible, and it wastes time.”

“So you have a complaint?”

“Complaint? Yes. I have a complaint.”

“If you want to complain about your treatment here, you can. The system allows for that.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring.”

“Please, Mr. Henry, no need to be insulting.”

“Yes, true. Sorry. It’s difficult to be civil when I am so out of patience.”

“Would you like to return tomorrow, and give it another go?”

“Come back? I have meetings scheduled for tomorrow that I have pushed off of today.”

“Of course. Let’s move on then, okay?”


“First is the matter of the complaint.”

“Yes, I was saying that I was getting no where with—”

“No, no—this isn’t the complaint department. I don’t take complaints. To complain you will need to go to office K823 in Wing D. They handle all complaints.”

“You mean that I can’t just complain to you?”

“That’s not my office. I am not trained in complaint management.”

“Fine. Forget the complaint?”

“I can’t. You have already.”

“But to you. I haven’t gone to Wing D.”

“Yes, I know that, but you have complained to me, and so I have to file a report on that. If you don’t go there, they will see a discrepancy. I could get into trouble. You also would have trouble—trouble finishing quickly and getting back to work.”

“But I’ve already been here far longer than I wanted to be.”

“I understand that.”

“Fine. What happens after I go to the complaint office?”

“They will send you back to us.”

“Back here? Back to Mr. H—”

“Yes, if you want.”

“Want? What do you mean by want?”

“You could request to be re-assigned. You don’t have to be with Mr. Hendeman. It makes sense after complaining about him that you would want another person in the office.”

“I wouldn’t have to deal with him?”

“No, you see, we are quite flexible. No hard feelings either. Sometimes different personalities don’t mesh.”

“Then I would like to switch.”

“Very well, when you are at the complaint office, tell them that you want to switch. They will tell you where to go.”

“Where to go?”

“Yes, if you want to be re-assigned you have to go to the Allocations Department. They allocate the assignments internally.”

“You can’t do it?”

“No, I don’t have the authority. They manage all the assignments throughout the whole bureau. They are quiet efficient, making sure that no one ends up with too many cases and that the difficult cases aren’t piled too much on one person. They do a great job.”

“Let’s be clear on this. I have to go to the complaint department, then to the Allocations Department, and then—only then—can I come back here and start a process all over again that will take I don’t know how long and is concerned with I don’t know what issues.”

“You needn’t raise you voice so, Mr. Henry. It doesn’t help matters. We are trying very best to run the process as systematically as we can.”

“This is ridiculous. I’m never getting back to work today.”

“Please, trust the process, Mr. Henry—”

“And why do you keep calling me Mr. Henry?”

“That’s your name, isn’t it?”

“Not exactly.”

“Hold on a second. You are George Henry, aren’t you? Citizen number 539-427-183?”

“No, I’m Henry Cline. You don’t even have my right name?”

“If you aren’t George Henry—Oh dear, it seems that you were called by mistake. This is terribly funny, isn’t it? We wanted a Henry, but the wrong Henry got called. Oh, what cosmic forces are at work here!?”

“No, it isn’t funny.”

“Sorry, it isn’t, is it. When I look from your point of view, I can see that it is not funny at all. What with your day wasting away and all. Down right irritating.”

“Thank you for that small admonition.”

“This doesn’t happen often at all. Really. I have not seen this happen for some time. Quite some time. I would like to do something for you, for all this inconvenience.”

“Do something?”

“I am authorized to offer you concession. I’ve rarely used this authority, and I’m quite tickled to be using it.”

“What kind of concession? Like compensation?”

“Let me see, the form is filed, here. Ah, yes, I have it. Only an arms length away. If you just hold on a moment, and I’ll be finished with you. You’ll be back in your office before you can say snap. Name: Henry Cline. Citizen number: 539-427-183. Reason for Concession: called inadvertently due to name mix up. Boy, those guys in Scheduling are going to hear it. Especially when this concession goes through. And…there. Just sign here.”

“So how does this work? This concession?”

“Just take the blue and yellow copies to the secretary as you leave. I am so sorry that this has happened. We should be offering better service.”

“Yes. Well, you have been so kind. Thank you.”

“Goodbye then”


“Hello, I was told to give you this paper.”

“Let’s see—oh! A Concession. Well, I haven’t seen one of these for a long time.”

“Am I entitled to anything? Mr, ah, I don’t remember his name, said that I was entitled for compensation for my time.”

“Well, sort of. But I don’t handle that directly.”


“This is not the office for compensation. You need the Restitution Bureau. You take the blue copy to them—I keep the yellow one.”

“What? Restitution Bureau?”

“Yes, I need the yellow copy for budget reasons. I have to file this to the office of Accounting. Got to stay in the black, don’t ya know?”

“Wait, back up. Where is the Restitution Bureau?”

“They have a few rooms in Wing J. It’s not far from here, and you get to walk through that lovely courtyard. This time of year it’s a great place for lunch. Sir? Sir! That’s not the right way to go. That’s the exit. Mister, you are forgetting your paper work. Oh, great. Now what am I going to do with a dead end requisition form for the Restitution Bureau? Why do people make my life so hard?”

Mother Tongue in English Class: Bilingualism in Assessment


Cynthia plays the part of the girlfriend, who is misunderstood.

During a presentation of a video, a student of mine stumbled on a truth that has been known for some time, but this truth seems to have stayed out of discussions on assessment in education—as far as I’ve heard. Here’s how it happened:

Cynthia, Toni and Jenny were making a video of a little drama they wrote to illustrate how language does not work the same for guys and girls. (You can watch the whole thing at the bottom of the post.) In the scene, a guy misunderstands the subtle hints his girlfriend gives him. By the end, she gets angry, and he doesn’t get what is happening or why it’s happening. It was a brilliant show of this comical and painful problem in relationships.

But in the video all of the conversation was in Korean. I do have to assess the work, and the students know that I don’t speak Korean. So why would they use Korean in a project for English class?

In the explanation part of the presentation, Cynthia said that they tried writing it in English, but it didn’t feel right. English just didn’t work for the realism of the scene. This boyfriend and girlfriend would not be using English to have these chats. Only Korean sounded right.

I was so pleased at her insight. She had instinctively understood how different languages work for bilingual people. If a person wants to communicate personal or highly emotional ideas, a mother tongue works best. Second languages work better for more analytical thinking. In Cynthia’s drama, she was talking to her boyfriend about getting together on their 100th day of dating. She didn’t want to ask directly, so she hinted about it to her boyfriend, but he didn’t get it. All these intimate feelings and complex emotions just couldn’t be said in English. Korean had to do.

1. Boyfriend

This is Jenny playing the part of the boyfriend.

I first came across the of emotions in language when my school’s tech integrationist, also my wife, sent me an article on emotion and mother tongue. The article on the web site Science Daily summarizes the research by Yan Jing Wu and Guillaume Thierry published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Here are the comments on emotion and language:

“…People have a greater reaction to emotional words and phrases in their first language- which is why people speak to their infants and children in their first language despite living in a country which speaks another language and despite fluency in the second. It has been recognized for some time that anger, swearing or discussing intimate feelings has more power in a speaker’s native language. In other words, emotional information lacks the same power in a second language as in a native language.”

Cynthia was not able to get at that emotion and the tension in the relationship in English. The subtlety came from the nuanced use of her Korean—and so did the believable nature of the conversation. I would even suggest that certain meanings can’t be communicated except through the mother tongue.

This brings us to the big question of how3. Misunderstand to assess this task. Because the conversation is in Korean, I can’t understand what they are chatting to each other. The students did include translation (with several grammatical errors), and that translation misses some of the flavor and meaning of the original, but it was enough for me to tell what was going on. The students used English to explain how the indirect speech Cynthia’s character was being misunderstood. They tracked three different ways the girlfriend was using language subtly and explained it thoroughly. I could easily see that they had an excellent level of understanding of how indirect speech could lead to misunderstandings—or new understandings, as we see in the end of the video.

My conclusion was that Cynthia, Jenny and Toni were able to show their mastery of the goals of the unit through their analysis of the situation—in English; they explained how the indirect speech led to confusion and even put the relationship in jeopardy.

This has gotten me to thinking about how to include mother tongue more often in assessment. Any ideas?