Tag Archives: poem about writing instruction

#310: An Elegy for the Essay in English

I read his essay out loud
the way it appeared on the page.
In about five hundred words
the student used two paragraphs,
and, beyond a single period at the end
of the first paragraph, used no
commas, no semi-colons or colons,
no dashes, no quotation marks, and
no more periods, not even at the end
of the second and last paragraph.
Leaving the placeholder from the template
where it was (in place), he titled his essay,
“The Title of Your Essay” and proceeded
to write in response to a prompt in
which he was asked to discuss
three different perspectives on
bilingualism represented by the
three different writers studied
in our unit, a unit about, you guessed it,
bilingualism. I read his paper out loud
and I did it in all seriousness,
deliberately inhibiting any impulse
to laugh out loud, because I really
did want to see if I could somehow
understand what he was trying
to say, whether or not, despite breaking
or ignoring almost every convention,
he might still have known what he
was talking about. I concluded that
he did not, and in the process of
attempting to prove otherwise,
he had killed the essay in English,
killed it in a bad way, killed it in a way
that would question the wisdom
of ever assigning another one again.
Mostly because I began to despair of
ever being able to teach a certain
number of students anything ever
about writing well. They’re too far
behind, and the interventions needed
too radical and beyond anything
we could ever offer them in the way
of meaningful help. And yet. . .

And yet my teacher heart decided
that the boy had written 500 words,
more words than he had ever
written for me before, and there was,
at least, something to celebrate in that.


Here’s the reading of the work the student submitted.


Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching

#77: What I’m Doing While My Students Are Taking Standardized Tests


I’m writing poetry, of course.
Early in the semester, I’ve got no
grading to do and I’m unusually
planned for the upcoming unit.
My students are taking a standardized
writing test for which they choose
one dumb prompt from four dumb
prompts in each of the four and only
four dumb categories of writing that exist
in the world: expository, persuasive,
narrative non-fiction, and imaginative.
They cannot write poetry.
So I am writing it for them.
But these are poems about teaching.
And this poem here is a poem about writing
and the teaching of writing and the
testing of the teaching of writing.
An argument could be made that
of all types of standardized tests,
that this one, because kids actually
have an opportunity to show how
they think and how they write, at
least is authentic. But I’m not sure
that it is authentic—in fact, I’m rather
convinced that it is not.  Disconnected
from any course content, it’s an
assessment that reduces learning
and art down to a set of supposedly
quantitative and objective skills.
And it’s high stakes.  A kid’s
graduation almost entirely depends
upon it.  And these are my biggest
gripes about the test—its do or die
ethic, its uniformity, its rigidness,
its total disregard for divergent ways
of learning and knowing, its
displacement of curriculum, its
dissimilarity to any actual writing
that’s done by real writers.  The
only thing I like about the standardized
test is that it affords me time to think
and write poetry about how I don’t like
standardized tests.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching, Writing and Reading