Friday, March 10, 2017

Sometimes, the Student is the Teacher

I have written about Eli before. I find myself doing so again. Eli and I don't always see eye to eye, but we probably have more in common than we realize. 

I gave an assignment recently that Eli (and many of his classmates) hated. It was the "Quotation Integration" exercise that I wrote about a few years ago. I typically use this assignment each year, in all my courses. I haven't been using it as often lately, and maybe I won't ever use it again, at least not in its current form. It could be simplified a great deal, and I'm going to think about that.

The students in my Period 3 English 11 course had two class periods to complete the work, and during the first of these two days, Eli was really angry. He was totally silent, and the wheels were turning furiously inside his head. He didn't do any writing that first day. He just stared at the assignment, as if he could burn holes through the computer screen with his eyes. I rather expected his laptop to go up in flames before the bell rang. 

The second day, he was also very silent, and still angry, I think, but at some point, he started writing. I assumed he was writing me an angry letter about why my assignment was so infuriating and useless. Near the end of class, however, he shared his writing with me, and I was astounded. 

While he had been angrily staring at the assignment, he was not only reviewing the skill it was meant to teach, but he was also plotting out the very best way to show me that he had mastered that skill. What he wrote was not an angry letter but a lovely memory of watching a meteor shower on Park Point with his family. He reminded me of what a great writer he is, and he showed me that he can integrate quotations perfectly, without doing my annoying and maddening worksheet.

I have copied below what Eli wrote, and I am sharing it with his permission. I am sorry that my assignment caused so much anger, but I can't really say I regret that Eli wrote this essay... It was the perfect alternative assessment. 

Meteor Shower
The beach was the soft blue that only comes when the stars are out and the moon is shining down upon it. “What a gorgeous night this is,” Rebecca exclaimed; “if only we could stay here forever.” Tonight was a special night for the two of us. We had been planning since we heard of the astral event. Looking up at the sky, I noticed something. “Look!” I said excitedly, “the first meteorite.”
My mom and I had heard about the meteor shower that only came once every 400 years from a coworker of hers. “You have to get out and see it,” Luke explained, “this thing only happens once in a long long time.” Enthusiastically, my mom and I had turned to each other, both fascinated by the night sky. “Let’s do it!” we both agreed, equally excited. The shower was scheduled to happen a week from then, and we both couldn't wait.
The day before the meteor shower we frantically packed and got ready for the spectacle. “Did you grab your long underwear Eli?” inquired Rebecca. “If you don't wear them you will be cold tonight!” I checked through my pack and indeed saw that I was packed and ready to go, and said, “Yep, I got ‘em. Hurry and grab the mattress so we can go soon!” We both knew how cold Lake Superior could be, so we figured it would be best to bring plenty of supplies to stay warm, including something to lay on.
As Rebecca was loading the mattress into the back of the truck, she turned and grunted, “Eli give me a hand with this thing! It weighs a ton!” Being the eager son I am, I immediately ran over to help. I grabbed the bottom of the mattress and explained, “ Ok, on the count of three lift. One, two three!” Together, we hefted the mattress up and over the back of the truck, and we were ready to go.
On the long drive down park point, I stared out the passenger window and pointed out, “This must be one of the most perfect sunset drives we've ever gone on, huh, mom?” Glancing towards my window, she noticed that it was indeed beautiful and commented, “It really must be; I can't remember a time when it was last like this.” We had reason to be amazed: the splashes of pastel colors layered beneath the stark cold blues of night were unique and awe inspiring, and both of us could only appreciate the gift we had been given.
As we rolled up to the parking lot at the end of Park Point, my mom noticed how many other cars there were alongside us. “Wow!” she said in a bewildered voice, “I can't believe so many people showed up for the meteor shower!” I too could hardly believe the sheer number of cars and so I said, “This won't be very special for the two of us with all these cars. We should hike farther down the shore to get away from all the people.” Giving me a quizzical look, Rebecca inquired “But how do you expect to carry all our supplies and mattress with us that far?” It was a fair point, one that I had not thought of. Thinking for a moment I bravely proclaimed, “Don't worry about it mom, I'll help carry the load and the mattress and we will make it no problem!”
And so we set out on a trek to get us away from the crowd on the main beach. It was tough going, but I didn't complain. My mom, on the other hand, was quickly getting tired of dragging a mattress behind us, so I asked “Would you like to take a rest? I understand if you want to stop now.”
“As if I would stop now,” she said defiantly. “We've come this far and we won't stop till we are good and ready!” I grinned ear to ear, so proud of my mom. “Let’s keep going a little longer then,” I said cheerfully. “we will stop soon and then enjoy the night.
We soon lost sight of the other beachgoers, and that told us we were far enough away to enjoy the show. “Let's set up camp!” I shouted, full of sudden energy. Together we unpacked and laid out our spot on the beach, and finally we were ready to watch the stars fall. “Look!” I said excitedly “the first meteorite.”

Here's a view of Eli's GoogleDoc, with my comment on it.