February 5, 2007

Beating My Head Against the Wall

The big state-mandated writing exam is this week. The scores will play a part in our school making AYP. Last year 89% of my students passed. It wasn't good enough for my administrator.

We've been in writing rehab since we came back from Christmas break. Basically, reminders of those little things--and some big things--that will drive their essays to excellence. Last week, I gave the students a practice exam, which is an actual test that was used a few years ago, but the state has released it so that we may use it for instruction.

You should have seen the c.r.a.p. that my students produced.

And--I had about 10 students who didn't even write to the topic! What the hell? As if we haven't been through that. "Even if you have nothing to say, you have to address the topic, so make it up if you have to." And by the way, the kid who went into a burning house through the doggy door to save his friend's baby sister probably made it up, but at least he struck to the topic given.

I give my students difficult or boring prompts to practice so they might be prepared if the luck of the draw leaves them lost. The prompts are designed so that students from every walk of life might have something to say, but occasionally they might run into a topic where they have never had the experience they are asked to draw from. (The topic is usually narrative.) More likely, they'll probably get a topic that asks them about some time in their life that blah, blah, blah and what they learned from it.

You know, this isn't difficult! They are capable of producing wonderful pieces of writing! Early last week, on a simple practice essay that wasn't a simulated test, they wrote passionate essays.

I tell them that they all have the potential to pass the exam. Honestly, I don't have the caliber of students I had last year, but they could ALL pass. Some of them barely. My administrator would also like to see higher scores, and not just barely passing. I wish she were in my classroom and could see that may not happen. Writing is a skill you develop. It's not like regurgitating information, or reading and analyzing. This is CREATION! Sure, students can follow the form of an essay, but the words create it.

I don't know what to say to my students this morning, the day before their exam. Should I chew their butts out for not giving their best work on the practice exam? Should I pump them up? Should I play it straight? Or should I just wish them luck, and again reiterated that they CAN do it if they WANT to do it?

Maybe I'll just draw one out of a hat.

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