|Working on annotation|
What is it I really want 10th graders to know, understand, and be able to do with poetry? What I realized this year is that I don’t really care if they remember individual poet’s names and can match them to a poem each has written, or if they can define literary terms.
I want them to understand what is amazing about language: we take a thought or emotion that exists in one person’s head or heart, translate it into words, pass those words to another person, and expect the words to unfold inside the other person’s head into the same thought or emotion that the original person had.
Poetry, especially lyric poetry, simply concentrates that process, focuses in on a single thought or emotion or instant in time, and a limited number of lines to do the job. So every word, phrase, clause, sound, image, carries great weight. You have to pay attention. I wanted them to become a little more proficient in paying that kind of attention, and to appreciate a little bit more the power of language to do that kind of translation of thought and emotion.
But how does one assess that?
I tried something new these last 2 weeks in my poetry unit—using annotation as formative and summative assessment. Last week I wrote about the formative assessment; yesterday I gave the summative assessment.
And, boy, am I smiling as I look over those assessments. I see students...
- Exercising choice among the 4 poems I offered--from different cultures, with different themes, in different styles, with different levels of difficulty. And all 4 poems were chosen by students. (I’d love to have a discussion or a journal entry about why they chose the one they did.)
- Writing many more annotations than at the beginning of the unit. (Note to self: Next year keep a copy of students’ first annotation to compare with the last one.)
- Using all six of the poetry reading strategies we practiced (read according to punctuation, not line breaks; identify speaker and audience; paraphrase; listen to musical devices; envision images [literal and figurative]; respond).
- Using many of the literary terms we applied as we studied poems in class.
Here’s what some of the assessments look like:
I was happy that students were able to correctly identify musical devices like alliteration, assonance, consonance, and internal and imperfect rhyme, as well as sensory and figurative language, and parallelism and paradox. And they could articulate what effect those tools achieve. Not to mention ask questions that they can sometimes answer and sometimes not, but they’re engaging with the text. And then the responses...
- “The metaphor creates an image of how the guitar sounds.”
- “Does the author want to emphasize something about the guitar? (2nd time being used.)”
- “Great last line! Haunting image. Almost paradox because poppies have an image of nice beauty and picnics in the park but McCrae gives it an ominous/evil twist.”
- “Paradox: Not really talking about food but war.”
- “Never ending?” [arrow from indefatigable]
- “Just like the women who cook rice with love, faithfulness, and cheerfulness, we need to do everything with love. Love is something that society needs.”
Trying new things is scary and exhilarating. Scary because things could go terribly wrong; exhilarating because they could go marvelously right. I think this time, when I re-examined what I actually wanted students to know, understand, and be able to do, and designed an assessment that would show it, and taught to that assessment with formative assessments along the way….I think this is one of the times it went marvelously right.
What do you really want students to know, understand, and be able to do? How will they show it? How will you prepare them to be able to show it?