Our frenzied novel writing was repeatedly interrupted on November 30 as students let out yelps of joy when they met their word count goals. Even I disturbed the quiet when I took a writing break, loaded my novel into the NaNoWriMo word validator, and saw “WINNER!” flash across my screen.
“I made it!” I yelled, jumping out of my chair and bowing to my students as they applauded my success. Whew. Last day of November and just hours left in the NaNoWriMo challenge — nothing like having students watch my progress online to motivate me to get that novel written!
The next day my students came to class bubbling with excitement over their success. Of my 91 8th graders, 87 met the word goal they had set for themselves in October (and the remaining four students continued to write until they met their goals — maybe not in a month, but they made it!). Many wrote far beyond their goals, and most of them said, “I’m not done yet, Mrs. Bradley!” They came back to class in December knowing that they needed to put the finishing touches on their novels, and then we would dive into the hard work of revising and proofreading.
But first – their task that day was to log in to an online, multiple-choice test that would supposedly assess their progress in English so far this year, give me a print-out of their current abilities, and, MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, predict how they will perform on the high-stakes STAR test in the spring.
The terrible irony in the contrast between the hard work they had done in November and the assessment they were asked to do on December 1 was not lost on my novelists. (“Mrs. Bradley, I wrote a NOVEL!”) But they are well trained little monkey students. They sighed, set down their backpacks, opened the laptops and logged in to the assessment site. A, B, C, D, click, click, click.
I am confident that my students are better readers and writers because of our novel-writing month, and I am sure their improved skills will be reflected in their performances on the multiple-choice assessments that drive our schools today. But doesn’t it make more sense to assess their writing skills with writing? Doesn’t it make more sense to look at the larger body of work they have done this year as an assessment of their learning than to trust isolated, unrelated bubble tests?
On the other hand, hooray for the local news, which recognizes the power of project-based learning like the NaNoWriMo project:
And hot off the presses! A cover story on our NaNoWriMo project: “A Novel Idea.”