(before I get started, I'd like to update you all on the poem I shared as part of the March slice. Remember all the angst and belly aching over choosing a title? I finally settled on "First Frost" - as I was trying to reflect that moment in time when autumn turns to winter. Also, my poem was selected to be one of 8 teacher poems collected into a small publication for the PA writing and literature project. I'm going to pretend there were more than 8 teachers who entered their poems.)
I just had the unmitigated joy of proctoring four days worth of state writing assessments for my fifth graders. They were troopers; staying focused on the task to the best of their ability. They created graphic organizers on their scratch paper, jotted down prewriting ideas, and dutifully read over their pieces before closing their books.
Yet it got me thinking. With the Slice of Life challenge in March and the Poetry challenge now in April, I’ve been “watching” my own process more carefully. How often do I “write to a prompt”? What does real life writing look like, and can those lovely state tests tell us about what those kids can really do?
Yes, I do write to prompts. Sometimes, that is. I’ve chosen to respond to the visual prompts on Bud the Teacher’s blog each day in April as part of the National Poetry Month celebration. Oh, wait… did you see the word CHOSEN in that sentence? I’ve also written blog posts to participate in the blog hops of friends and colleagues. Again, that was my choice. Those posts, however, were written to a theme – not to a prompt. I wrote about my reading life – Ode toa Geeky Reader. I wrote about my love of dystopian fiction. I shared my thoughts about creating a reading culture. How I chose to interpret those themes was left entirely up to me. Not only was the interpretation left up to me, but I had weeks to consider the theme and craft my post.
These fifth grade students, however, were given a simple prompt and about an hour to plan, write, and edit their work. Presumably we can determine the proficiency of each writer from a multiple choice section and two prompt pieces. Yes, the excellent writers will generally be able to do this. I was considered a strong writer in school, and I’m sure I would have been able to “show my stuff” in this kind of setting.
Is this really how we write, though? Should it be what we are teaching the students to handle? And if it isn’t how we actually write, why is this task what we’ll spend the fall analyzing? We’ll agonize over every poor score, every less than proficient indicator. How could we have gotten them to do better on this test? Honestly, is this the goal we should hold for ourselves and our students? Is there not a better way?
Tell me – when was the last time YOU were forced to write to a prompt in order to prove your proficiency at work?