08 October 2012


   I am in my second day of reading Beowulf "tests" consisting of two short (20-minute) essays on topics I  provided. This year I focused our review to include some discussion of how to choose the right prompt for their personal strengths and weaknesses. I always offer choices with the prompts, but in previous years, the students had not seen the choice as part of the assessment. They had not realized that they hold some power in the choices they make: the choice is critical for me in assessing their learning. It was obviously the first time many of them  had thought about writing in this way--most of them still admit writing is just hard work, and therefore they do not like to do it. The idea that they were good at some parts of it seemed to be something that they had not considered since grade school. Nice to be the bearer of good news once in a while!
   I know that some of my colleagues cannot schedule this much time for grading a test, and I admit that if my own children were still young, I am not sure how I would do this either. But as a writing teacher, this time is priceless. I learn my students, and their voices are so clear and strong, that I am humbled by the chance they give me to know them. And assessing learning with writing is an art, and every chance I have to practice that art is thrilling.  I love that some of them veer off into the wild blue yonder of their own reactions--they still teach me about Beowulf every year. And those who stick with class discussion and their notes to focus their observations seem to consider stylistic choices more consciously as they grow accustomed to my way of working with them. And once in a while, I recognize the other Beowulf lovers in the class just by the way their words shimmer on the page.
   The only downside for me is knowing that the formal essays are coming, and it is so hard to convince kids that the strictures placed on them are insignificant, that they still have a chance to strut their stuff for me.  I work on that every year. Not sure of the solution (more writing? less sleep?)

*image attribution: http://www.onbeing.org/sites/onbeing.org/files/styles/large/public/6002204726_85b34c8c01.jpg

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