Our school has been very fortunate by working with Jayne Marlink from the California Writing Project over the past two years. She has been working with all of our English teachers to help us become better teachers of writing.

Largely because of her suggestions at a session with her today, I’ve developed a plan for what I think should be a useful “final exam” for my mainstream ninth-grade English class, and thought readers might find it useful/interesting — and help me make it better!

Students in all our English classes at the beginning of the school year read a very short text and responded to a prompt. Then, this month, we gave them similar text and prompt to respond to, and we’re looking at both through what’s called an “improvement rubric” (I’m not going to get into an explanation of exactly what that means in this post).

I’m going to give each of my students their writing sample from the beginning of the year and their writing sample from this month. I’m going to ask them to look at the essays with an eye on the key writing concepts I’ve taught during the year:

* Did they respond to the essay topic?

* Did they use a quote — ideally more than one — from the text to support their points?

* Did they use paragraphs?

* Did they use a personal example to support their points?

* Did they use examples from other texts or other information they know — beyond giving a personal story?

* Did they write a conclusion restating their thesis statement and offering a short summary?

I’m going to pair-up each student — one who wrote a stronger paper (though still needing improvement) with one who had one that needed more work. They will each read both of the other’s essays (the September and May ones) and comment to each other on how they did on each of those writing concepts. By looking at both the earlier and later versions, students will be able to see how much they have improved, and also see what they need to work on.

We’ll then have a brief class discussion on what people learned and how they felt.

Then, students will be able to revise and rewrite their second prompt as their “final exam,” incorporating what they’ve learned out of the review and discussion. I’ll give these final essays to their tenth-grade teacher as part of an introduction for each student.

It will be interesting to see how this goes and, as I mentioned earlier, I’m open to hearing suggestions on what readers think I can do to make it better.

I was intrigued by hearing Jayne say that some research appears to show that students do a better job at retaining analytical writing skills over the summer if they get this kind of feedback near the end of the year. I’m going to explore this further but, even if that is still in question, I figure this kind of final assessment certainly can’t hurt.

What do you think?