|Look at all that work students' brains can do while reading!|
At the end of a year, what is important for me and for my high school English students to identify about the learning that has happened? This spring I decided that in addition to a self-assessment of their growth as readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers/listeners (see last week’s blog), I also wanted my 10th graders to show all the ways their reading brain works to make sense of a piece of literature. I don’t care so much what they remember about individual pieces of literature that we’ve studied—they could get all that from a couple of hours with SparkNotes. I wanted to see what they could do with a new piece of literature. I wanted them to see what they could do.
So I came up with a prompt, a rubric to be used on the close reading and annotation of the opening paragraphs of a novel, and a selection of novel openings on which to practice and then perform. (See this blog for my initial foray into using annotation as assessment with poetry.) I was so encouraged by the amount of thinking students were able to demonstrate in their annotations, I learned more about how students’ brains process reading, and I identified ways I can improve instruction in the future. That’s an exam worth repeating.
Here’s what I did for 1/3 of my exam—I distributed a copy of the first page of The Kite Runner and the following prompt and rubric:
PART 2 (30 minutes) _____ /30 points
Skill transfer to reading. You will receive a short piece of fiction writing on which to demonstrate your ability to understand, analyze, interpret, and apply an author’s intent by annotating your close reading. You will need to be able to paraphrase/summarize, identify literary elements and elements of style, visualize images, ask questions, make inferences, and connect to your life, the world, and/or other texts.
_____ /5 Paraphrase/summarize
_____ /5 Identify literary elements
_____ /5 Identify elements of style
_____ /5 Ask questions
_____ /5 Make inferences
_____ /5 Connect to your life, the world, and/or other texts
Here are some of the ways students responded:
(1) Summary: Everyone had accurate summaries.
(2) Literary elements: Many students noted the vivid imagery (from “crumbling mud wall” to “early afternoon sun sparkled on the water”), personification (“the past claws its way out” and the kites “danced”), and simile (“floating side by side like a pair of eyes looking down on the city of San Francisco”)
(3) Elements of style: Students commented on the 1st person narrator, the pervasive use of descriptive language, the hints and flashbacks.
- Did he/she just move here?
- Was he/she hiding from someone/something?
- What does “unatoned” mean? What kind of sin? What did he do?
- What do the kites symbolize?
- Who’s Hassan and what’s a kite runner?
- Must be somewhere cold
- “Twin kites”—I think it is a symbol and is important to the story since it is the title of the story
- One student tracked his inferences: “Sounds like a white boy from Europe or America”… “He’s not in Europe like I thought he was”… “He’s in America!”… “Did he come from a different place?”… “The names sound like they are from the Middle East.”
- He’s in California—my sister actually went to the Golden Gate Bridge
- I have those moments where I was like, “If I had only studied more,” or “If I were only one second earlier.” I think his/her decision/situation was far worse, though.
- The narrator went on a walk after the call (that caused him to think). I also sometimes go on walks to think or when my brain needs a rest.
- I don’t know what he did, but for Christians we have Jesus to forgive us, so we don’t have to worry about “being good again.”
- No matter how far you push down or try to forget about the past, because it happened, it might or will be brought up again.
- This person is like me since I talk on the phone with my close friend that is in Mongolia every week since she was close with me in Australia.
- There are also decisions I’ve made in life that helped shape me into who I am today! Events where my world was flipped upside down. But I need to not let these events dictate the course of my life.
- People fly a lot of kites in India, especially on Independence Day. I can see 100’s of kites in the air.
- I could relate to this character who I don’t know much about because after I moved to Okinawa, everything changed….
Inference often extends to unfamiliar words. I allow students, after they mark an unknown word with a question, to ask me for the meaning. Many students asked about the word “harelipped,” but one student decided to forge ahead with inference in the following note: “Harelipped—talks fast?”
One point that became obvious already in our practicing was the need to clarify what, exactly, “style” is. Students asked what the difference between literary elements and style was, and I was slightly stumped. When I had made the rubric, it had seemed obvious to me that literary elements are literary terms or devices and style is word choice and syntax. And sometimes that is clear—but sometimes it’s a matter of pervasiveness. One simile is a literary term identified, but five of them throughout the passage looks like style.
The extra benefit of this type of exam? Students have read the opening paragraphs of 4 novels (1 for whole-class practice, 2 for optional practice, and 1 for the exam) they might want to pick up this summer!