Today I gave my 7th graders the "test from hell." Oh, I didn't have a choice, it was the next step in a long month of a literature unit. We assigned the novella, "A Summer to Die" a month ago. Now, the lead teacher in this class is a classic Language Arts teacher. She not only assigns the novella, she actually "assigns" the novella. She passes out a copy to each student, only after affixing a label with their name on it inside the front cover. Students are expected to read this novel over a period of two weeks, they are given several days of silent, sustained reading time in class, (this is where I take my students who are learning disabled, to my room and read out loud to them. During this time, we also discuss parts of the novella, do exegisis exercises, plot lines, small group discussions, discuss the five elements of fiction, motifs, themes, character analysis, and a whole bunch of other crap which bores the kids out of their gourds. Then the test comes. It is a friggin' 8 pages long. My kids get the adapted or differentiated version, which is still 8 pages long, and harder than heck. It starts out with multiple choice, which gives them at least a 25% chance of getting the right answer. Next there are matching questions like what is a "protagonist?" "What is "irony" and the students are supposed to match up with the answers. Well, even the fact that discussed all of this yesterday and the day before that and the day before that, I was met with a lot of "DUH" looks and scratching of heads. Then came the direct quotes from the book and who said them, without a word list to go by. Wow! If I hadn't read this book every year for the last 6, I couldn't pass that part. The essay was skipped. I guess that was the differentiation the teacher made. But the hardest part was giving the kids 12 strips of paper with events from the book, and having them put them in order from the first event to the last. That about blew the kids away. I have to admit, I helped them some on that one. Not enough to call it cheating, but at least enough to get them started.
I had a few students who had actually read the book from cover to cover, had paid attention in class, had taken good notes and had actually studied for the test. Other students just plain didn't care enough to even try. What do I do with them. One group of 5 students have 5 different learning levels. This makes my job so difficult some days.
Anyway, the novel was boring, it was depressing about two teenage sisters, where the older sister is beautiful and popular, but contracts leukemia and ends up dying. It was written in 1979, and no doubt is good lit, but it's time for a change.
The next novel we will read is the same novel my son, now 31, read when he was in 7th grade. Not for the same teacher, however! Like I said, it's time for a change.