In-class essay assessments have been a source of anxiety and controversy for my internship placement’s 9th and 10th grade Honors English classes. Before we assigned the second in-class essay of the year, one of our stronger students expressed her frustration with in-class essays. She said that it was not an accurate evaluation of student’s writing skills and would prefer a formal essay that could be worked on at home. The most common complaint founded from the fact that slow writers do not have sufficient time to cultivate well-developed thoughts. As a slow writer myself, I sympathize with these students. I remember feeling overwhelmed when teachers assigned in-class essays in high school. It felt like a race rather than an accurate measurement of my writing abilities or content knowledge.
With that being said, there is a benefit to in-class essays and they serve as a useful tool for assessment. First, student’s strengths and weaknesses can be revealed in a way that homework assignments cannot duplicate. Teachers are exposed to students’ raw skills in regards to conventions, grammar, sentence structure, organization and voice. Students are not assisted by spell check or any of the other Microsoft Word tools that mindlessly allow students to correct mistakes. Friends and parents are removed from the equation and students are given an opportunity to display editing abilities. One of our first assessments for students this year was an in-class essay responding to a prompt stemming from a one-page short story. All 9th graders were required to take the non-graded in-class essay and it served two major evaluative purposes: reading comprehension and writing skills. Based on the results, we were able to identify the students who may need additional assistance going forward and those students who would need to be challenged in other ways. Also, this method provided us the opportunity to recognize common mistakes and address those issues before moving forward.
Furthermore, in-class essays are vital in standardized testing. Despite the conflicting views regarding standardized testing, many students in our 9th and 10th grade Honors classes have aspirations to take AP English Literature and Composition in 11th grade. This AP test requires students to receive a certain score on the writing assessment in order to receive college credit for the course. It would be doing students a disservice if students were not exposed to in-class essays prior to the AP test and challenged to develop these in-class writing skills.
Lastly, dependent on the prompt, I believe providing students extra time for in-class essays can be a beneficial tool to decrease anxiety. It is always concerning to allow students to begin an assessment, leave the classroom – and then return to an assessment possibly hours later to complete their responses. This decision requires appropriate judgment from the teacher, but in the right circumstances, can serve many different purposes. Students who struggle with timed essays can dedicate additional time to finish the essay. This displays to students that hard work can lead to a more polished final product. In addition, it is the responsibility of the teacher to provide a prompt that is reasonable for the allotted time period. It can be a source of anger and disappointment if teachers set unrealistic expectations. Teachers need to look at the in-class essay closely and use educational inference to decide if the majority of the class will be able to do a thorough job within the allotted time.