I’m a firm believer in the power of student voice and student choice. When students are trusted and taught to make thoughtful, reasonable, and sometimes risky choices with their reading lives, something magical happens. They learn. They grow.
But after a semester of embracing the concept and practices of individual student-led book choices in my grade nine classes, I decided to assign a whole-class text. It was time. My students were ready.
I assigned Of Mice and Men.
First of all, it’s a classic. Students are smarter for reading it. It feels like serious literature. It’s chock full of imagery, foreshadowing, symbolism, and injustice. Students feel emotion when they read it.
Second of all, it’s manageable. It is 105 pages long. I gave my students eight days to read it. Books were handed out on a Sunday, and students needed to be finished reading by the following Monday. For some, that meant they could read it multiple times. A few finished it overnight and then got right back to their choice novels. Others planned to read fourteen pages per night so they could finish just in time. Even though they all read the same text, voice and choice were still built into the assignment.
While reading the book, they regularly met in small groups, book club style. They discussed topics of their choice after making plans and committing to be accountable to one another. It was the perfect opportunity to introduce the Notice and Note fiction signposts, and many of their discussions were prompted with something they had noticed while reading.
Once my students were done reading and discussing, it was time for some assessment. In order to prepare for the book club discussions, students annotated their thinking, their questions, and generally marked the passages that resonated with them.
The day that they were supposed to have the book finished, I collected each copy of the book and did a quick annotations check.
It took about 90 minutes to go through all of them. Our ninth grade team had decided to give some basic guidelines to our students: annotations should be plentiful, at regular intervals, show a variety in type of thinking & approach, and add original content.
We don’t ask our students to annotate everything all of the time, but because they needed to be ready to have purposeful and deliberate discussions with each other, the annotations seemed like a good call. After checking over each student’s annotations, I handed back their results and let them know that if I had under-rated them, they could confer with me in order demonstrate thinking that I had missed. This assessment provided quick feedback, and didn’t require a ton of teacher time for grading.
If students weren’t happy with their marks, they were given another opportunity for learning and for demonstrating proficiency. They were given the option to read and annotate another classic novel within two weeks. They were also instructed to schedule some conferring time with me to make sure they were on the right track. Continue reading “Multiple Types of Assessment with a Whole-Class Text”