Friday, March 13, 2015

Assessing Readers

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It's been a few weeks since I wrote about students' independent reading essay questions. I've returned students' essays to them. We reviewed feedback and now for a brief update.

Yasmina is a tenth grader in our Pre-International Baccalaureate program. You'll remember her from an earlier post describing her planning for her independent reading essay. Today I'm going to write through what I see Yasmina doing in her essay (finally!).

In the classroom I have been  coaching students to write in third person--to try out the objective  voice and to use more examples when writing analysis.

Yasmina has shifted to third person.  You can see that from the first sentence, "Upon analyzing the authors' use of figurative language and description to show attitudes toward loss, it is evident that the authors use this to convey both positive and negative connotations toward the effects of past loss." You can also see some confusion about tone and connotation. This essay was written in an hour and I believe she works her way past that initial confusion.

She understands when and how to  . She also understands how to write blended comparison paragraphs. Instead of chunking ideas one paragraph about this book and then another paragraph about another book, etc.,Yasmina organizes paragraphs by literary convention. In her first body paragraph she is examining words that reveal a positive attitude toward loss.

To begin, the authors of the novels use figurative language to convey positive attitudes toward loss. In The Glass Catle, Jeanette Walls utilizes figurative language to explain the main character's, Jeanette's, loss of simple rights as just a part of life. Told through her eyes as an innocent child, she says, "I told Lori how lucky we were to be sleeping under the stars like Indians" (18).  In this, Jeanette sets the tone that though her parents did not give her and her brother and sisters the proper car that every child deserves, like a home or simply a bed, Jeanette as a child feels that this loss of simple rights is just all one big journey. She believes that, like the Indians, this is just a way of life. Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands also utilizes another metaphor to show that loss of loved ones is seemingly all part of God's ultimate plan for us. Susan McCarthy utilizes the statement, "Time in the fire don't burn us, y see it helps us be ready for whatever is ahead" (61). This is used to explain the main character's loss of her best friend, Marvin to the K.K.K. Within this metaphor, Susan compares loss of loved ones to a fire, but she does not mean it in the literal sense, instead showing that fire is like pain it may be searing but it is like a wake up call to what should be expected in life further on. Both authors seem to use figurative language to convey the loss is life but this is positive in their eyes... 

Is it perfect academic, analysis? No.  I'd like her to develop her ideas with more evidence. Her transitions need some attention too. Typically she would not start with the direct, "to begin." Those things are not as important as the growth areas I see. As learners approximate, we see them drop or become less sophisticated in some skills as they learn new ones. There are so many new things Yasmina is trying with this essay.  The new learning coupled with the demand of the hour to write mean that other skills may ride in the back seat for this quick trip. Still, I can see a lot of learning in her writing.

Yasmina is well on her way to understanding the literary analysis form. She organizes her paragraph around figurative language and uses two clear examples. She does not name the simile in the first example and I'd like to see her explanation go a bit further. What does she mean, for instance by her assertion that Walls saw the children's poverty as "just a way of life?"

I love that she uses the authors' first names though we know we should use their last names to maintain a formal, objective voice. The intimacy of writing about Jeanette and Susan tells me that Yasmina has befriended the authors of the books she has read. And she took on some challenge in her reading choices during the first semester. Her comprehension is clear even if the interpretation does not go as far as it could.

As a writer, Yasmina demonstrates an understanding of how to structure a blended comparison paragraph. She is well focused. She does a good job of introducing her textual evidence, using it and then commenting on or elaborating on it.   All big steps on the academic writing (and thinking) path.


  1. You see what she has learned to do well, how she is developing - the positive. Sometimes, we forget to do that - we focus instead on how far they still need to go. And that comes through to them, doesn't it? They know our disappointment.

  2. Sometimes I think in our zeal to give students choice and voice we lose sight of how important it is to open the door to academic conversations--the kind they need to compose in college--for them. Love how you're helping students find their authentic, academic voices while still honoring their unique selves.

  3. Lee Ann, this is such smart work and I agree with your take on the first name of the authors. Yasmina is in high school, not writing a thesis in college. Her use of the familiar does show intimacy.

    Inspiring work.

  4. I love that you're helping students and teachers. This is such clear writing about your thinking and instructing - how to focus on what the student is doing well, but also how to take them up a notch.