Last month, I wrote a post titled Here’s What I’m Doing For My Class Final Exam. It shared my tentative plan for having students compare an essay they wrote at the beginning of the year with one they wrote in May — using a list of questions corresponding to key writing concepts we’ve focused on during the year — and then having them rewrite the second one.

I used that plan with my mainstream ninth-graders this week — with some key changes — and did a somewhat similar exercise with my Intermediate English class.

They both went very well and, in fact, had some unanticipated results. I thought readers might be interested in hearing what I actually ended-up doing, and learning about some of the surprise outcomes.


As I had originally planned, I gave my ninth-graders their two essays. But then, instead of giving them the list of questions I had shared in my previous post, my colleague Katie Hull and I (mostly Katie) converted them into an “improvement rubric” that students would use to assess how much — if any — improvement they had achieved in those key writing areas over the the nine-month time frame.

Here’s a downloadable copy of our Improvement Rubric. It’s one sheet divided into two columns, and allows students to directly assess their improvement between the two papers. I think this is a valuable model, and I’ll certainly be using it often in the future.

After students completed their assessments, I (and Katie Hull used the same process in her classroom) gave them a second sheet with several questions (here’s the actual hand-out):

1) Look at the scores you gave yourself on both essays. Overall, which essay was your strongest? Why?

2) Look at the scores on your strongest essay. What did you do well?

3) Look at the scores on your strongest essay. What are 3 things you need to get better at next year?

4) In what areas of your writing would you like Mr. Green (their next year’s English teacher) to help you with?

After they had completed their responses, my original plan had been to pair-up students (a stronger writer with a weaker one so that the weaker one could see some good models), but students were just a bit too fidgety to do that. So I immediately asked them to choose which of the two prompts — the first or second one — they wanted to revise, and they wrote a new response.

The essays were really quite good — much better than the previous versions.

But that really wasn’t a surprise — I had expected that this process would work.

The big surprise was what happened next.

I’ve written about experiments that have found that people who have had very similar experiences for most of the same period of time will remember them very differently based on if the last few minutes are different (see The Importance Of Good Endings). In other words, people who have had a painful medical procedure for an hour will remember the experience far worst than a person who has had the same procedure for an hour, but was not told it ended for a few minutes later (there was no pain during that short period of time). The reverse would also hold true.

I decided to try to apply that concept — though not the pain 🙂 — to my class. As readers know, I have students complete an anonymous evaluation of the class and me each year (see My Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers)). I’ll be writing extensively about this year’s evaluations next week but will comment on them briefly here. To see if those “good endings” experiment could be replicated in my class, I had students first complete an evaluation two weeks ago when were in the midst of our last unit. I then gave them the same evaluation to complete after they had finished this revised final exam and they were literally done with my class for the year (I told them that I had forgotten to include a question). I wondered if the evaluations would be more positive after knowing there would be no more work in the classroom for several months.

I discovered that the the responses were the same — except for one key question.  The question was: “How much did you feel you learned in this class during the year?” and they were given the choices of circling “A Little” “Some” or “A Lot.”  The second time, many more students circled “A Lot” than “Some” after having completed the improvement rubric and final essay than they had the previous week.

I think their actually seeing the improvement in their writing had a major impact on how much they felt they had learned.

This impresses on my the importance of looking for more regular opportunities for students to identify for themselves the growth they are gaining.


For my Intermediate English class, I unfortunately had misplaced their beginning of the year writing assessment. So, instead of using a similar improvement rubric. Katie Hull and I (again, mostly Katie) developed a review of Important Writing Words (you can download the sheet here). The words were:

1) What is a hook?

2) What is a thesis statement?

3) What is a topic sentence?

4) What is a conclusion?

5) What is a fact? What is an opinion?

I gave students five minutes to work on them on their own, they then shared their responses with a partner, and next we went over them in class.

Next, students were given the same writing prompt they were given in the fall (you can download it here).

Here, again, I was quite impressed with what students wrote. The short review really made a difference.

Even though both exams went quite while, there’s always room for improvement. Please feel free to share your reactions or suggestions in the comments section.