As an English teacher, a typical exam would be a combination of multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, short answer, and essay questions. This was the way I was taught to assess a unit on a novel or poetry. I began to think about my practice though, and I questioned, what do I really want my students to learn? Will it ever make a difference in the life of my students if they memorize what the characters of a given novel did or said to each other? I realized that this was not what I wanted to emphasize, so I moved to the essay.
The essay, I thought, could be more comprehensive; it would explore the underlying messages of what we read, and allow students to express themselves more fully. Though this was better, I didn't really think it took my students where I wanted them to be. It didn't ask them to extend or fully analyze the points I really wanted to emphasize.
Enter the English Exam project or semester theme. I tried to increase both the rigor and the relevance of my teaching and my assessments. Here is how I assessed my Seniors:
We started out creating an "I Believe" essay. This laid the foundation for our Senior World Literature course. We analyzed samples of "I Believe" essays, and then we created our own. I wanted the students to really think about their personal philosophy. What meant more to them than anything else? The results were good. The students enjoyed the process and narrowed their focus. Later in the semester we had a photographer come in and photograph the students holding an "I Believe" poster that they created. The students really enjoyed the project. Click HERE to see some of their pictures.
Next, we focused on philosophy in the semester readings. I chose works that allowed for a philosophical view, such as "The Guest," by Camus, and "Antigone" by Sophocles. Both had characters with strong personal philosophies. For the unit assessment, students were to choose a character from one of the works we studied. They then had to write an "I Believe" essay in the voice of that character. I know it was rigorous; the students certainly had a difficult task. But my question for you is, was it relevant? Is it a valid way to assess student learning?
Here are some other "different" assessments I have used in class:
Sophomores: For a Sophomore unit on American Literary Movements, the assessment used music. I played four songs. Each song was indicative of an American movement. The students had to decide which traits the song embodied, and write a short essay linking the song to the movement.
Juniors: For our Junior Novel unit, I am having the students create a scrapbook as a character from the novel. (one novel is about WW II, the other the Vietnam War). The students have to write letters in the voice of the character, find articles that relate to the events of the novel, and find other pictures or memorabilia that the character might find important.
So what do you think? Do you think it is advisable to incorporate assessments like this into the curriculum, or do you think it is doing students a disservice as it does not model the SAT or ACT exams? Keep in mind that we do also, as a school, use Pearson tests regularly.