Saturday, December 10, 2016

How Am I Doing? Every Student Assessment Is Also a Teacher Assessment

Did you ever play this game? If so, this voice sometimes haunts your dreams: "Do it again...but BETTER!"

This year I have been targeting helping students actively engage in reading like writers. I’ve done some activities that seem to give traction, like this one on transitions. As I teach rhetorical strategies in AP Language and Composition, and as we identify those strategies in the writers we read, try them on for size on our own notebooks, and get feedback on essay drafts, I hope students are making the transfer to their own writing. 

But are they? Are the rhetorical moves we are studying actually showing up in student writing? I just collected a processed piece of writing, and this is what I saw…
  • We must learn to think so that we can think to learn. (What I taught: Antimetabole! Like Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Or Aristotle’s “Eat to live; don’t live to eat.” I didn’t see this move in this student’s writing last year!)
  • All three of these people did just that. They changed not just their lives, but also inspired those around them! We can do the same; I want to do the same. (What I taught: In your conclusion go global and noble. Do something more than restate your thesis and preview of points: inspire!)
  • I am a seventeen-year-old just who gets tired of school sometimes. Hauling around a ten-to-fifteen-pound backpack and struggling to understand Algebra II easily wears on me. And occasionally, all the work makes me with I could go ahead a graduate. However, there is a reason for caressing aching shoulders and whiting out wrong answers: schooling matters. It’s better to deal with backaches due to textbooks than to bending over a factory conveyor belt. And even though many view school’s sole purpose as studying, the reality is that much more than book knowledge is learned. True education is not limited to the rigid rules of chemistry and Japanese; it encompasses subjects, social rules, and self. School exposes you to all of those elements, and in doing so, rewards you with a rich, real education that prepares you for the real world. (What I taught: Well…here is a student who takes every single word down in her notebook and then works to use it—personal example as appeal to ethos, details to show not tell, specifics to stand for generalizations, parallelism, power use of colon and semicolon, alliteration…. She was good last year, and this is a whole new level.)
I saw a lot of sophisticated transition, too. That’s just harder to capture in a sentence or four. When I returned students’ first drafts with my revision suggestions, I shared these excellent examples—and a few more—with the whole class, so the students, too, could see that as a class, their reading was informing their writing style. So they could appreciate each other’s triumphs. And so they could have one more example of where and how to use rhetorical strategies to aim at communication to an audience with a purpose. 

I can do even better. I think I might have had students write a model sentence in their notebooks three times this semester. But I’m encouraged that I can see that the steps I’ve taken are producing results, and that motivates me to, as my children’s Bop It game used to tell them, “Do it again, but BETTER!”  

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