Friday, April 4, 2014

The Freedom to Compose

I want to share something that struck me the other day.  In the morning I sat in on a few classes sitting for a PARCC field test.  High school students were taking the literature analysis section of PARCC.  After analyzing a few passages and a video, students had to address a prompt in a text box.  I imagine students were required to cite evidence from the various texts to support their claim.  The question mirrored everything we have been hearing about the types of questions students will face on PARCC.

In the afternoon I joined 4th grade teachers for a PD session on informational writing.  As part of the workshop the presenter had all of us spend time examining several informational texts.  The purpose was to develop an understanding of the varying types of text structures through which informational writing could be expressed.  In addition to the texts, the presenter also shared a couple of videos, including a rap video about the Industrial Revolution some students created.

While walking around the room, examining different texts I started to think back to the PARCC exam in the morning.  For PARCC students were required to demonstrate an understanding in a very traditional structure.  Students had to read and respond in writing and do so within the confines of a text box.  Contrast that structure with some of the images provided below.  Authors such as Steve Jenkins and Nicola Davies present an idea through leveraging different text structures and through strategically placing images on the page.  

Of great concern is that as educators we only ask our students to produce products which mirror the outcomes expected for mandated exam.  As opposed to creating an environment where students have the freedom to compose an idea, rigid assessment structures are established.  To be completely transparent I would rather see high school students be faced with the challenge of creating a book similar to texts authored by Steve Jenkins or Nicola Davies.  As opposed to sitting for a two hour PARCC ELA exam, give high school students the challenge of having to publish an informational mentor text for 4th graders.  A challenge such as this incorporates essential core literacies, privileges research, values creativity, and is also authentic.  Design thinking elements are included in the task.  In designing a book for 4th graders student authors would have to consider their audience and think deeply about how to hook a 4th grader.  The latter might even lead high school students to interview 4th graders before crafting an informational text.

In the end of this fictitious task who knows what students could produce. What’s important is that students see the various ways  to express an opinion and that classrooms provide freedom when it comes to composition.