Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will You Grade on a Curve?

Teacher education is a big program at the university in my town. As a result, the campus library has a pretty nice collection of instructional materials. I was browsing those shelves yesterday and couldn’t resist one title: 250 Tests for Young Adult Novels. This book was published in 1995, and most of the novels included are adventures or mysteries (including one by Hamline’s own Liza Ketchum, The Ghost of Lost Island). Each test has 20 questions and there is even an answer key in the back so the teacher who gives the test needn’t have read the book. Way Cool!

The tests are multiple choice and are clearly intended to primarily measure if the student read the book and retained plot and character details. Some questions: “What caused the plane to crash?” (For Hatchet); “What is Maniac allergic to?” (Maniac Magee). “What does Delia throw into the ocean?” (The Ghost of Lost Island).

If this book helped some teachers incorporate fiction into the classroom and encouraged more reading, I say hooray. But as I browsed the book I started thinking how different the tests would be if they were intended for use with writers, not readers. First of all, writing teachers are notoriously tough, so there wouldn’t be any of this multiple choice nonsense. Short answers, at least.

“Describe the narrative voice used in _____; be sure to reference John Gardner’s psychic distance scale in your answer.”

“Identify two endowed objects in _____ and explain how the author paces the appearance of those objects in the story.”

“Identify three places in ____where a period of time passes. What technique does the author use to kill time?”

I’m kind of getting into this now. A test! Next summer at the Hamline residency I’m scheduled to do something on “Reading as a Writer,” using our required reading list. Returning students--you’ve been warned.



  1. I think we should do a children's lit bee for fun one evening. I have no idea what the fabulous prizes would be.

  2. You know what those multiple choice tests do? They get students to read the books and hate them. I volunteer in my daughter's fifth grade classroom as a book group monitor. Yesterday I was assigned to help the kids with a worksheet of questions on the last ten chapters of HOLES. Didn't realize it was possible to make HOLES insanely boring, but OMG is it.

  3. Oh, these questions really make me think. Bring it on MQ!

  4. Marsha, your true calling must just be game show host. I love it. I don't care about what Delia threw into the ocean. I care about how she felt when she did. Our kids participated in the Battle of the Books in Alaska same sort of literal questions and that drove me crazy. I am with Anne - quiz show in July with Marsha Q as host. Her questions are far better. CRM

  5. I was thinking how nice we never have tests... too late.

  6. Marsha, if you incorporate some sort test at our next residency, I will instigate a coup d'etat.

    We will wield sharp sticks and use picture books by Jamie Lee Curtis as lethal projectiles.

    You've been warned.