I’ve not been writing much this week because exams have occupied much of my attention. From Tuesday through Saturday this week, students at my school are sitting for an hour and a half at a time, scribbling in answers to multiple choice questions, answering cloze questions, and occasionally writing essays.
My students wrote essays. The minute-glass was there. It turned over three times. They wrote three twenty-minute-long essays, and then each of them wrote some comments on one essay from a classmate.
I hate to say it, but the short-form comments were way better than the long-form essays. Of course they were. That’s the format that students write in today, in the form of Facebook comments and text messages.
Afterward, most felt they had done best on the second essay, after they’d gotten warmed up. It had taken them 20 minutes or more to feel that they were “ready to write”. The first essay was terrible, they’d felt. The second essay was better, they decided; the third, as their attention and interest flagged, was not as horrible as the first but not as good as the second. We spent some time in class graphing these experiences yesterday, since we still had some regular classes after the exams.
In truth, I found that they’d analyzed themselves pretty well, but incorrectly. The second essays tended to be better in terms of writing skill. But they had less meat in them — fewer details, less understanding of the texts. The first essays tended to be the ones that they’d studied hardest for — they had the names of specific historical figures, references to specific events. The third essays were ok in terms of writing, but the least meaty. So, in general, my students wrote three essays on Tuesday: a poor essay on something they knew well; wrote a good essay on something they knew less well; and wrote a mediocre essay about essentially nothing at all.
And people wonder why teaching is such a difficult profession.