Saturday, June 13, 2009
REFLECTIONS ON A WEEK OF READING, HOW DID IT GO?
I have returned from my sojourn into the world of reading/grading AP US history essays. I read 680+ essays in six days of actual reading. That's in excess of a 100 a day. That certainly shatters my thoughts during school that I didn't want to read 90, or thereabouts, over a weekend. This marathon is a testament to the ability of the human mind to assimilate an incredible amount of information.
The deal was to read each essay and grade it on its merits. The Document Based Question (DBQ) was by far the hardest to grade. In this question the student is given several documents to read prior to writing the essay. The student is then required to incorporate those documents in an essay that answers the question.
Here is the question: From 1775 to 1830, many African Americans gained freedom from slavery, yet during the same period the institution of slavery expanded. Explain why BOTH of those changes took place. Analyze the ways that BOTH free African Americans and enslaved African Americans responded to the challenges confronting them.
That is a very challenging question to say the least. Take a minute to think about how to answer that question. Take into account that the graders are tough. If a student gets a "9" the highest, they deserve the grade. We owe the students the best effort we have, and they got it from me and my colleagues. It was hard work but I can't believe how much I learned about history in general and the essays in particular. All in all, a very good experience. I'm a better teacher because of it.
Now how did the students do on the test? As for the essays, I can say that they did about what you would expect them to do. Many not so good, some OK, a few well, and still fewer, very well. As I churned out essays read, it became tough to keep focused. Then you would read a great essay and you would have trouble figuring out if you were bowled over by an essay that was pretty good, or was this one really good. That called for us to pass it to another reader to verify our grade. That ensured that the students got the fairest grade possible. I am proud of what we did and I think the students who took the test got a fair result.
I think the greater result is that there are some very good students in the country. A lot of the responses were well thought out and the attempts were honest. Some on the other hand were clueless and had no chance of being right. The students didn't know what they were writing about and were trying to sling some stuff on the paper in the hope that some of it stuck. That probably is about the spread in life, huh?
I'll go back next year if they ask me. I enjoyed the experience and most importantly, I learned a lot. Most of all, it verified to me that there are a lot of very smart kids in this country, the key is to challenge them academically. Make them work. Make them think. If you do that they will respond. I do that everyday and I will continue to make them work and to make them think.
My thought is that our system would work if we demanded more of our students. We don't. My thought is that our system would work if we made our students achieve. We don't. My thought is that our system would work if our students were expected to succeed. They aren't. And that is a shame.