Chapter Seven: Letters, Reflections, and Projects, Oh My!

Evaluation of Student Learning

Evidence of student learning and student grades are not, unfortunately, the same thing, as much as this would be easiest. Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, attempts to shortcut, and in a sense, she just wants to figure out what will get her an A and on to the next class.

Student Grades:

To the student:

Grading is done through contractual obligations.  In other words, we will discuss what grade you are striving for at the beginning of the semester, and you and I will work towards you earning that grade. For each assignment, you will earn one of the following grades:

  • Credit + (Advanced proficiency)
  • Credit (Proficient)
  • Credit – (Marginally proficient)
  • No Credit (No proficiency exhibited)

If you receive a grade that you are unhappy with, you may revise your assignment and turn it in within one week of the assignment being returned to you.


Minimum standards are set for credit, and these will match the curricular assessment tools (AACU rubrics), but the experiences are individualized. This certainly takes more effort for students and for the teacher, but the end result means that the course becomes differentiated for each student. Teachers should be adjusting content, process, and products, and instruction can be multimodal, interest-based, and ability-based (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). Content, products, and ultimately, process, are differentiated by the contractual obligations of individual assignments. These are reflected in the instructional objectives, and although these objectives match the behavioristic models of objective writing that have existed since time immemorial (or the 1970s) out of realistic necessity, the preciseness of behaviorism and the open-endedness of of humanism, to put it bluntly, have shortcomings (Giroux, 1979) that do not allow for freedom to differentiate, nor do they offer some of the more laudable qualities of B.F. Skinner, however few they may be.

In essence, the differentiation, the instructional strategies, the dynamics, and the assessments (both formative through milestone reflections and meta-reflections and summative through the projects themselves) are wrapped up in the experience of student as storyteller. In fact, the framework of my children’s literature class works well in this way, for my English majors deal with storytelling often, and my future teachers, even more so. Explicitly, this frameworks look like the following:


And my head I’d be scratching’ while my thoughts were busy hatchin’ — The Scarecrow

At the beginning of the course, just after being given the syllabus, students are asked to

Decisive Thinking. From

write themselves a letter about what they know and about what they expect to learn. I read these as a pre-assessment, though far more importantly, they act as a tool for student reflection at the end of the term. Likewise, at the beginning of each unit, students write a “preflection,” which has the same function of the letter. By the end of the course, students become adept at “figuring out” what is coming next. Like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, they just needed someone to trust that they would critically think.

Formative Assessments

Just because I’m presumin’ that I could be kinda human — The Tin Man

Formative assessments are constant and ongoing. These include the learning itself that happens in the classroom, the reflections (including the “preflections” above) students

Tin Man
Rusting. From

complete in in class, and every single interaction that I have with my students and they have with each other. At first, these interactions are impersonal and mechanical, but by the end of the course, they are as much a part of the culture of the course as the students themselves. Formative assessments become, and should always be, ubiquitous. This leads to a community of learners. It leads to empathy for each other. It leads to consensus-making — with each person having and being encouraged to use their voice. This is democratic inquiry in action, where all are not heard, but rather, each is heard.

Summative Assessments

Why, with my regal beezer, I could be another Caesar — The Lion

And of course, like the formula of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, the Lion is not “cowardly” at all. He just needs someone to validate his courage.

And a Royal Growl. From

This is at the heart of why every single assessment is also learning activity. What does it matter if students can pass an isolated test if they have have not shown that their learning has been meaningful? Smagorinsky (2015) contended that what ultimately matters in the language arts classroom is that “writers develop communicative competence” (p. 143), and this happens in the meaningful classroom.  In fact, communication is essential in the classroom, as the creation of meaning through communication is ubiquitous with learning (Powell & Kalila, 2005).

The final project, just as every project, contains a reflective experience. As a whole, this connects to the letter at the beginning of the course, and students tell a digital story in which they show, through multimedia, how their thinking has changed over the course of the semester. Admittedly, this project is not my own, and I completed my own “Changes in Thinking” project when I took my own children’s literature class (Piazza, J. Personal Communication, 2006).

It is terrible, and I am sure that I am already over the 20 minute limit (I cut so much. Swear!). But it does show that I had found a home within children’s literature — and with future teachers. And that is a pretty great ending to a decent story: finding home.

(If you are interested, you can find it here: A few years ago, it magically uploaded to YouTube, in all of it’s painful, Comic Sans-y glory.)

Epilogue: Everybody Poops (The Next Steps)