How do I judge my homeschool student’s responses for writing and literature?
2 + 2 = 4. Always.
The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Correct.
The scientific binomial name for a llama is Lama glama. Amusing, but also factual.
Subjects like math, history, and science have right and wrong answers. 2 + 2 never equals 7, and the Declaration of Independence was not signed in 1864. These answers are easily checked and marked as right or wrong on activities and tests.
However, English is not a subject with such easy “right” and “wrong” answers.
In most cases.
Oh no, here we go with the exceptions and grey areas that are so frustrating! How are we supposed to learn and teach English if it has no right and wrong answers (in most cases)?!
Many people will be happy to know that certain areas of English can be identified as plainly correct or incorrect. In compositions, things like capitalization and punctuation can be “right” and “wrong.” Is the first letter of every proper name capitalized? Do the compound-complex sentences have commas in the required places? Such areas of mechanics are readily checkable.
In literature, also, sometimes wrong answers are easy to spot:
Question: What is a theme in Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol?
Obviously wrong answer: All old people hate the holidays.
See? Sometimes it’s easy! It’s the other times, however—the times when a response seems to be good but doesn’t match the sample answer in the Parent/Teacher Handbook—that induce headaches.
So how do you judge answers for composition and literature?
Here is where we need to shift our thinking a little. We are not computers that only understand 1’s and 0’s—yes and no, there and not there. We are human beings with minds, wills, and emotions that can process in terms other than “correct” and “incorrect.”
Instead of thinking in terms of “right” or “wrong,” think in terms of “done well” or “done poorly.”
Let me ask you: What is the right time to finish a foot race?
That’s an absurd concept, isn’t it? There is no right time; there is only a good time and a poor time.
This concept applies to English responses, and it will hopefully take the burden of finding the “right” answer off both students and parents. Some people may be uncomfortable with the lack of correct/incorrect limits, but we can handle this, trust me. I believe in you!
Now that we are thinking in terms of “done well” and “done poorly,” how are we supposed to know if a response is “done well”?
Here are some guidelines to help homeschool students write and to help parents judge responses for English.
- Does the composition clearly communicate ideas? Then it is done well.
- Is the content organized and easily-followable? Then it is done well.
- Does the composition utilize proper mechanics? Then it is done well. (Note: Everyone makes mistakes. A few typos or missing commas does not ruin an entire essay.)
- Is the content worth reading because it contains quality thoughts? Then it is done well.
In literature, things are trickier, but we still have some general guidelines for creating and judging responses.
- Does the response demonstrate thinking? Don’t approach a piece of literature with the goal to find the answer. Rather, consider how it makes you think (or feel). A response that demonstrates one’s thinking is done well.
- Is it supported by the literature? The idea that literature can mean whatever you want is not true. (But that’s a subject for another blog post.) A response that uses the piece of literature to support one’s thinking (that uses “textual support”) is done well.
- Does the response consider the entire piece of literature? Sometimes people base their response on one small part of a story or poem, but it doesn’t accurately represent the literature in question. A response that considers the piece of literature as a whole is done well.
- Is it well-written? For this, see the previous bulleted list 🙂
Composition and literature don’t have to be intimidating. Without the high stress pressure of finding the “right” answer, English can even be an enjoyable subject to learn and to teach!
By Athena Lester
Curriculum Development and Scoring Services