Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Topic: Evaluating Student Essays

Purpose of this blog: Reviews of interesting ideas in recent English education journals.

10-second review: It might be interesting to share with students this series of questions on completing personal essays. They are offered by a professional writer.

Title: “Is the Writing in Your Piece Concrete—and Does something Happen?” Barbara Abercrombie. The Writer (September 2010), 31.

Questions to Ask Upon Completing a Personal Essay

“Does your opening get right to the subject?” Does it engage the reader’s interest and curiosity?

“Does the first paragraph set up accurate expectations for the rest of the essay, show clearly what it will be about?”

“Is your writing specific and concrete?” “Cut all adjectives and adverbs that don’t give essential information. Remember, verbs carry the energy in your writing.”

“Does something happen in your essay?” “Is there action, not musing. Is there at least one specific incident or anecdote?”

“Are your own specific feelings in your essay?”

“Is there a theme?” “Does the essay make a point?”

“Have you read your essay aloud?”

Have you found another person you trust to critique your essay? “Have the [person] read your essay and tell you … anything that is unclear….”

Comment: Might be useful for students to read the expectations of a professional writer. You could distribute the essay. It’s only one page, or you could distribute my outline and have the students discuss each point.

By the way, I have found that when asking someone else to read the essay, it is wise to ask him or her to refrain from judgments like “This is great” or “This needs a lot of work” or remarks about grammar and spelling. I suggest that the person reading it for the writer identify what is not clear by putting question marks in the margin. Then, if the writer wants to, together they can discuss why the idea is not clear. Fixing unclear ideas can be done by re-wording or by adding detail. RayS.

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