Excited about a paper?

Posted: December 11, 2017 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about student choice and format of work. I have been trying to remember and put into action what Marc Prensky said at an ADVIS event several years ago, “assign the verb not the noun.” This means assign what I want students to do, not exactly the tool or format it must take. (I wrote about something else from the event at the time; isn’t it interesting what you think is going to really stick with you and then what does stick with you?)

To date, I have been able to put this idea into action on more creative assignments. This year I have assigned things like “research and share your findings” or “demonstrate interdisciplinary thought” (that one really made folks crazy) but not “powerpoint presentation” or “podcast”. As it turns out, most students ended up choosing a similar format for these exercises, but I made a real point to talk about the actions and the important thinking work rather than numbers of slides or minutes of audio.

The current assignment my English 12 students are working on is the first time I have assigned “write” and not added “a paper” or “a story” after it. The assignment is, for the most part, an analytical paper that is meant to get students thinking about two works of fantasy and some other big ideas of the course. It is an assignment that lends itself to a typical English paper, but it is not an assignment that REQUIRES a typical English paper. It turns out that for the vast majority of my students, a regular, old English paper is just fine right about now. However, for one student a screenplay was the format of choice. He is SO excited about this prospect. Now, I did not just say, “great. Go for it. See you later.” We chatted about some of his plot options, and I definitely pushed for one particular idea over the others (which I thought was manageable and better answered the requirements of the assignment). It still may not be great. However, the student has been working hard on it, and, given that. I think there is a better chance that the finished product will be a better representation of this student’s best work.

Whenever I assess work, I want to learn something about the student’s progress with a particular skill or mastery of a particular concept. If I know that the student didn’t put forth much effort or that the format in which I collected this data was particularly difficult for the student, then the results on the assessment are less meaningful for me. Of course, there are some assessment formats that may be important skills as well. In that case, I just need to be aware of what I am actually measuring when I evaluate the particular assessment.

Back to my student. I have read the first draft and have made a number of significant suggestions. So far, the student continues to be willing to engage in the discussion; therefore, I am still positive about the experience for the student and the amount of thinking the student has had to do about the ideas and content. Since I always want my students to be successful, I hope that there is a lot of revising between now and the final draft. The screenplay has a lot of potential. But, even if it doesn’t get a lot better, I will know that I am looking at the result of significant time and engagement.


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