Thursday, December 22, 2016

Give an Exam to Celebrate

You know the old story about the guy who was asked why he was banging his head against the wall, and he answered, “Because it feels so good when I stop”? Does it sometimes seem that semester exams right before Christmas holidays are a little like that? There should be a way of both assessing and stimulating student growth in a way that celebrates the journey of the first semester and sets the stage for the second. 

This year, for a portion of my exam, I simply asked students to respond to the following prompt: Write an assessment with support of how you have grown as a reader, writer, thinker, discusser/speaker this semester. So I sat on the airplane to my holiday destination reading, not a stack of essays, but testimonies to the learning that had happened during the semester, sprinkled with hints of where we can head next. One of the best Christmas presents ever. Merry Christmas to me!

Here are some of the things my students said:

How I grew as a reader…

I used to only read dystopian…books, but now these aren’t the only things that interest me. I’ve read historical fiction and non-fiction, which is something I actually never thought would happen….The books I’ve read this year have actually been catalysts of conviction for me. I’ve been thinking more about the meaning of the books.

Keeping a “to-read” list is important because it reminds you that once you finish a book, you’re still not done. Reading is important, and it expands knowledge.

In this class you pushed me to read outside of my comfort zone, most noticeably by giving me Sophie’s World. At first I was quite bored with that book, Mrs. Essenburg, but then I began to become more interested in the content. Because of my love of books, I have always had a philosophical outlook on life, I just haven’t really used that outlook in recent years. This book reawakened that dreamy-thinly part of my brain.

How I grew as a writer…

I’m writing more about things I care about, which makes all the difference in the world. My conclusions when it comes to essays have gotten a lot better. I used to just restate my facts and condense the main points down into one paragraph. Now I find a way to engage the reader and relate them to the paper so they can feel connected.

I have begun trying to improve my writing, and now think a lot more about what I’m saying…I do still, however, find myself struggling to form my own voice when writing, as I think a lot of it is either inconsistent, suspiciously reminiscent of other writers, or just poorly done. I hope to work on all of this next semester.

How I grew as a thinker…

Topics like genocide and human dignity really made me think differently. For example, the book Night put me in Elie Wiesel’s shoes (or feet, I guess). It’s different from textbooks or documentaries, as reading allows you to paint your own picture and experience similar feelings.

I think more, and more often. Before I would think without purpose when I read something. However this class has forced me to put my thoughts on paper and this made me think harder and deeper into things that I would usually never care about. I learned how to compose my thoughts…and create things that are comprehensible to others. I would ask more questions …that would stimulate me and my brain much more powerfully. Before I would…think a thought then let it drift away. Now my thoughts and facts remain with me, and I can say what I always meant to say.

In “Justice in an Unjust World,” the author talks about how God cares and suffers with us. How he never grows numb to the world as most do…. Paul [Rusesabagina—the movie Hotel Rwanda and his autobiography An Ordinary Man] was like that. He never grew numb to others’ suffering and saw it all in black and white, clear as crystal, that when so many people are being hurt, or when anyone is being hurt for that matter, that as a human being, possessing human dignity, it is your duty to help. People like him have also changed my way of thinking because I was beginning to grow numb to the suffering myself. Like when that shooting happened at the night club in Florida. I walked into the living room the next morning, saw it on the news, and said, “Really? Again?” Not in a concerned way, just a kind of, oh, the cat missed the litter box AGAIN kind of way. Now, I don’t think that would be my reaction. I was getting so used to hearing bad things that I didn’t really care any more. Is that how people felt about the reports of the Rwandan genocide? Now, because of reading all of these accounts, I am on permanent wake-up call. As a thinker I have become more aware of other people, their needs, and the world around me in general.

How I grew as a discusser/speaker…

I was very nervous because I never discuss things with other people, especially not books and plots and themes of them. However, with these daily discussions I can articulate my thoughts into words and say them with confidence and, yes, in moments I will stay silent, but when I must speak I would speak loud and proud my thoughts and ideas. These are the things in which I believe. I will listen to others and bounce off of them and understand what they mean, to learn and to quote them. To be able to comprehend what others say so that I may learn from them and they may learn from me.

With support from the journals and a different way of thinking, I learned to start and keep a discussion going on with a lot of questions and confidence to speak.

I really just always thought I would be bad at discussing. I was wrong. I got comfortable with my classmates and became more open with anyone. I realized that everyone’s ideas matter and that discussing really helps you think and assess what you’re talking about.

I have learned to come out of my comfort zone and express my thoughts.

I feel that discussion is a big part of your class because it helps us to think, understand, and learn from each other rather than having the teacher feed us their own ideas and thoughts. I think that your class helps us grow individually and teaches us to make our own ideas. I think this is especially good because we won’t always have someone to tell us everything. I’ve also learned to give other people chances, as well as bring people into discussion. As a loud individual…I [formerly] would make everyone else’s ideas change to mine by telling them the answer and not giving them room. I think your class has given me a larger value in listening and applying the ideas of others.

It is so energizing to hear from your students that they are getting the big ideas you’re trying to teach. Bring on the eggnog, and let the holidays begin! May all teachers everywhere get such lovely Christmas presents! 

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