Monday, January 03, 2005

I love final exams

So today I put all the 75 terms and words on the board. To these brave souls' credit, they did not shudder or whine. And we just started going through them and they took notes. When we got to "beacon," I stopped for us to think about what Mr Obama might have meant about America being a "beacon of opportunity." They jumped right to it. These children are unbelievable. They understand metaphor as though it's as natural a part of their language as A is for America. Then I asked them to try to connect Martin Luther King, Jr's letter from the jail in Birmingham to the term beacon of opportunity. It makes me tear up to report that they were able to say how they see King as their beacon of opportunity and hope.
Being a teacher is beyond profound.
The four page final exam (which I'm attaching below) consists of this: a revised excerpt from the blog entry of yesterday (I thought it would help them understand what I'm shooting for), a page of details about requirements and some suggestions for prompts, and the two pages of Obama's speech. I'm going to let them see it tomorrow or Wednesday, not to keep, just to read in class so they will know where I'm coming from, and I'll pick them up at the end of the period.
We did have some hallwalkers third period. Eventually their bs at my door got the better of me and I stepped outside and chased them off, the little chickens. Then, how's this for reversal, my strategy for countering further attacks was to keep my door wide open and address the class from the doorway. The hallwalkers walked by about six more times, but didn't bother me or my children anymore. However, at the very end of the period, when I'd relaxed my vigilance, two of them came in the open door. I asked them if they didn't have anywhere better to be and they didn't answer me and I said well, you see I'm not going to let you steal from my students, and one of them asked my whole class if he was stealing from them and my students said yes. What a day.
During my planning period I took a student whose fourth period teacher was absent into the computer lab to teach her how to use the internet. After school, when I was riding my bike past the gym and the coach, he said the office had been looking for me fourth period to cover a class. He told me I should clear it up in the office.
I felt a lot of love today, going both ways.


Here are pages one and two of the exam: (3 and 4 are the speech itself)

Page One: (Revised from the blog to speak directly to my students)

I just read Barack Obama’s keynote address again, and although it was his speech asking Americans to vote for John Kerry, that's not the reason we loved it four and a half months ago. His speech addresses the hope of America, the potential, the ideals America embodies. He reminds us of the values on which our country was created. And he believes in them. He believes in America. So I was thinking, what if, for the exam, I spend this week putting on the board about 75 words and terms that I found in the speech that you won't know, and ones that will lead us to thinking about what America is, and we spend some days talking about them and then for the exam, ask you to choose x number of pieces of other American literature we've read and look at what those authors say about values, and somehow have you address Mr Obama's speech. We spent a few weeks recently on that project which caused you to remember everything we've read, from which you took notes, so you've somewhat prepared yourselves, and you still have all those notes and that big researched essay you wrote. I love the idea that this time around you've read and thought a lot more about America than you had in August when we first read the speech. You will have some intelligent things to say based on things that you've read. You have no idea yet how significant it is to have read some of the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, and Martin Luther King, Jr. You have certainly known about King, but you didn't understand how he achieved his greatness. You didn't understand about his quiet civil disobedience, and that Thoreau had done it before him, and in the same way. Now you do because you read King's letter from jail and Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience."
One day, one moment, it's going to hit you that education is power. Barack Obama says:"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States, Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

"If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work." In the well-known speech that Chief Seattle is supposed to have made, about the Earth and all the parts of it being all of our brothers and sisters, that if something happens to someone we don't know it still affects the web of life, the whole, and therefore each of us, he says the same thing. We read Chief Seattle's speech in class too. And there's the literature of the pilgrims and the slaves and the puritans that we read. There's so much, yet, it all is about us. I think literature, in this case, has gone beyond its aesthetic significance and has taken its place to show us something about who we are. And Obama brings it all together without making reference to a single writer who came before him. It's amazing. I want you, my students, to be amazed with yourselves. And I think you will be. I'll say it again: I feel so honored to be the one this time to help you see what you're capable of.
Melanie Anne Plesh

Page Two:

Final exam January 2005 English III (25% of your grade)
The ultimate goal is for you to write an essay (two drafts) in which you respond to Mr Obama using information you learned from the literature we’ve read all these four and a half months. As I explained in the previous letter, his speech deals with American values, hopes, opportunity, all like that. So does all the literature we’ve read in the past, but not in exactly the same way. Your job is to show a connection with Mr Obama or an understanding of Mr Obama about values, because you have been educated in the literature of America which deals with values. In our classes we have had countless discussions about the meaning of the things we read, and how what we read shows something about the American psyche. This is an exam. You are to show me that the literature and the discussions registered.
The first draft can be as rough and raw as you like. I suggest attempting a free write. Then turn the free write into a rough outline, then write it again, carefully, watching that you have used the "to be" verb correctly, that you used " ‘s" for possessives, that you make plurals end in "s" (usually), etc. I will grade your exam based on two things: the content, that is, that you show me that you understand the literature we read, and the form of the essay, that is, that you execute it well.
I have three ideas to help you. One, you might consider writing Mr Obama a letter instead of an essay (they’re almost the same) or you can write a speech (also the same as an essay). Number three is this: what if I were to find a way to get some of your essays to Mr Obama himself? Consider that as a possible audience.
Some prompts that come to me:
I Am An American Too
Americans Have Always Had the Values You Espouse, Mr Obama
The Americans Who Have Come Before Us Created A Great Society (you will make reference to his points about our American society and connect them with the other literature.)
You Are Too Optimistic, Mr Obama
You Are Too Pessimistic, Mr Obama
(Choose a line or phrase or paragraph from the speech to center your essay around or to agree with or to refute)
You Are Right On, Mr Obama. Your Speech Reminds Me Of...
I Wish You’d Known... (name a writer)
Good luck. I admire you and I have loved working with you. Thank you for bringing your minds and hearts forth.


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