Play up strengths, tone down the criticism…check!

The following is what I wrote to my coordinators after I had refreshed myself on how to send a more encouraging feedback letter to young high school students. I admitted the error of my ways. But hopefully they will heed that our own scoring rubrics encourage us as raters to tell the students what we see in order for them to improve in their essay writing. I have not heard a response from my coordinators since I wrote to them. Hopefully this missive hit the mark.

I guess I have taken so much tough critiques from my husband and a newspaper editor friend of mine about my second book coming out in June, that I had forgotten my role as a reader and rater of fragile 11th grade students. I do not know what these teenagers are going through with cliques, bullying and feeling rejection perhaps in their own family. The teacher sees them day in and day out, we don’t.

I see after reading the website how I need to FIRST give the strengths of the essay, I have been remiss in this. Then provide some of the challenges (which I amply dole out) and then give helpful feedback about “strategies for improvement.”

I guess I’m so eager to get help from my own readers about my writing and change things as quick as they give them to me, that I forget that some young writers (and young teachers) are not willing to receive what may be perceived as insensitive and cruel feedback. I will say that words matter and from my own life experience overseas, “Ideas REALLY matter.” Ideologies have killed more people in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere where I have lived. Enough said.

Indeed, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may be true in MY case. Words alone do not hurt unless the malicious intent is to harm people’s reputations. My pursuit in history and in global issues stems from my quest in learning more, being curious about my environment. According to the scoring rubric “Ideas” for a college ready writer should be “original and clear and generate and convey fresh ideas and avoid dull and obvious observations.” Slavery was bad 200 years ago and in the deep South, we all acknowledge that. Even so, prejudice continues today. We fought a terrible “civil” war over that issue, I have Norwegian ancestors who fought for the African Americans’ freedoms because they themselves believed in freedom so much! They came of their own volition to the “New Land” for greater opportunity.

According to the “Organization” of an essay that is college ready, the “structure and framework which the ideas are arranged should be smoothly and logically arranged…so that readers don’t get lost or confused.” Logic is very important, hopefully we have not lost that with our current educational system. I would hope that teachers would explain better about Argument essays having a claim and then counterclaim, pro and con. Argument essays should not be a slam dunk of just one side and I am seeing that in some of the essays that are submitted. From now on I will write you to have them changed to “Explain and Inform” if I see that happen again where the essay does not fit the criteria for “Argument.”

Definitely you will see an adjustment in my feedback letters as I will be using the scoring rubric more and inserting comments there when necessary.

Yes, a teachable moment for us all.

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