I want my last unit of the year to be something pretty rich and powerful, so we’re reading He Who Saw The Wellspring, otherwise known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. If my kids can read three or four tablets in three weeks, I’ll be happy.
But I’m realizing that I also want some data. I genuinely want to know what they’re absorbing from it. And in order to do that I have to quiz them, and grade them. And as Bendrick-Santoyo points out, you need to design questions that tell you what you’re doing wrong when your students get them wrong.
In order to do that, you need questions. So that’s what I did tonight. I pulled together a writeup on the history of the Epic, and then found five pieces of Art History to go with that, that I can make into a slide show tomorrow. Then I went line by line through the first tablet of the Epic (Benjamin Foster’s 2001 translation, which I read with Dr. Foster at Wesleyan U.’s summer program), looking for questions about vocabulary, interpretation, grammar, structure, characterization, and historical relevance. I generated about 75 questions. I probably need about 25 more.
And I’m going to need to put in the same kind of effort on Tablets II and III and IV. There’s a lab on writing cuneiform that I did a few years ago. If I can get some sculpey, we may do that and make tablets one day late next week. There could be another primary source, in the form of the traditional Sumerian story about scribal training, and that could be part of a sub unit on Leonard Woolley’s excavation of Ur and the royal graves of Ur. More art history, which admittedly fits well with the Bull of Heaven story, though not so well with Humbaba.
Having questions is only half of rigorous assessment, though. I also need strong answers, either in the form of grading rubrics for open-ended questions; or one-right-answer multiple-choice questions. And the questions need to be tied to a set of guidelines that tell me what my students need help on when they get a question wrong. Some questions need to be open-ended for the final exam, and others need to be multiple choice. And there has to be a lengthy essay option in there too.
Wow. This is hard.