This week, the first of the fourth quarter, has flown by for me–has it for you all? Perhaps I’m feeling the passage of time because of making end-of-year lesson plans. Maybe it’s because of the spring sunshine and storms. Or, it could be because I’m looking into summer course offerings at UNH, the NWP, and our nearest university, WVU. Whatever the case may be, I am acutely aware that I don’t have much time left with my fabulous students this school year.
Since that is the case, I want to give them opportunities to showcase what they have learned and how they have grown. Of course, I want a unique, rigorous way for them to show me this, so I’ve been designing some workshop-appropriate final assessments for my students. The abilities I am curious about are their independent reading, their informal writing, their reading of difficult literature critically and deeply, and their crafting of excellent, time-intensive writing.
My goal at the end of the year is that students can read a variety of texts independently, can think and speak critically about those texts, and can choose and recommend a variety of books for themselves and others. To see whether they can do this, students will complete an independent reading project that includes a craft analysis of the writing itself, a creative portion in which students show their comprehension of deep layers of the text, and a presentation of the project overall in which other students and I ask questions about the book. Additionally, students will do their own booktalks, in which they recommend a text to the class, perform a fluent read of a short bit of the book, and discuss their own reading experience with it.
In terms of quickwrites, or the informal, fluency-building writing we do at the beginning of every class, I want students to be able to understand and show their own growth with this type of writing over the course of the year. I do this by having them do a final “Journal Harvest,” an excellent idea I got from NWP mentor Sally Lundgren, which we’ve also done once or twice a quarter thus far. In this harvest, they read over all of their writing from the year and write a formal reflection about its growth, content, and style. Additionally, they choose three pieces to revise and draft into formal, typed pieces. Lastly, they share their notebooks, reflections, and revised final pieces with their writing groups in order to give and get feedback.
We’ve read two class novels so far this year, and for the final part of the year, students have chosen from a variety of books to read in literature circles. Being American Literature, I booktalked the standards Fahrenheit 451, Huck Finn, The Scarlet Letter, and A Separate Peace. Students chose which of those they wanted to read and have been collaboratively discussing, interpreting, and completing tasks related to their reading in groups. To share their understanding with the class and me, they will complete creative projects in groups, as well as write a formal book review they’ll publish on the wonderful GoodReads.
Finally, the Multigenre Project will show off my students’ abilities to write, revise, and refine formal, coherent writing. I have already discussed the way I teach the MGP extensively elsewhere, so I’ll be brief here. The MGP allows for student choice, curiosity- and question-driven research, frequent talk in writing groups and through final presentations, and rigor. To my mind, it’s a perfect culmination to a year of workshop, and I can’t wait to see what my students produce with it.
In true teacher-participant form, I will be doing all of this beside my students, and I am quite looking forward to the reflection time this quarter’s modeling will allow. I’ve already begun the process we all go through at the end of the year, in which we start to wonder what we’ll change in the future and what worked wonderfully that we’ll hang onto. In reflecting, I find my thoughts and writing returning again and again to the power of talk. Its deliberate addition into my curriculum this year has been the biggest change from previous years, in which student talk used to be in a space reserved for group work, presentations, etc. This year, though, student talk is at the center of my teaching, and I think it’s made an incredible difference in my students’ ability and willingness to learn. I’ve consciously included it in all of my final assessments as a result, as it’s been where I’ve learned the most from my students.
As you can see, there is a lot of grading, planning, and facilitating in my future, but I think it will be well worth the effort…and enjoyable to boot! Here’s hoping that my students will learn as much from each other in these final weeks as I’ve learned from them all year. Cheers to the fourth quarter, all!