Athena Lester
By: Athena Lester
January 3, 2018

What’s the Right Answer? Homeschool 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 students write and to help parents
judge responses for English.

Composition:

  • 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.

Literature:

  • 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