This is a follow-up post to my series on teaching a 4-genre introductory creative writing class: Why 4 Genres?, How I teach 4 Genres in 1 Semester, Part I, How I teach 4 Genres in 1 Semester, Part II, How I teach 4 Genres in 1 Semester, Part III, and Teaching Creative Writing with Literary Magazines. All have been written as worked on the proofreading for my multi-genre textbook, A Writer’s Craft, which has now gone through final proofing. Exam copies should be available soon!
This semester, I’ve tried to describe my process of teaching creative writing, and now that we reach the end of the semester and our Full Class Workshops are over, we are turning to the final exam.
When I first came to Mississippi University for Women, I was told we were required to have a final in every class — in part, this was due to meeting the contact hour requirements for a semester. When I started teaching creative writing, I initially chafed at the idea, thinking the final portfolio ought to be enough. However, since it was a requirement, I set about creating an exam that made sense for the class. One reason I didn’t mind, especially since I require hard copies of portfolios, is that it gave me one last chance to see my students and return their portfolios. It also allowed students some more time for reflection.
Over the years, I’ve given many different permutations of the exam, and I realize there’s no perfect one, but a few things have remained constant or at least been popular variations. One has been to include a writing exercise. I might bring in a number of objects or photographs and ask student to write about whatever they like related to the prompt. I’ve had some good work come out of this last exercise, and it relieves some of the stress of the exam.
Another question that I’ve used, which I’ve usually given in advance, is to write a self-assessment of their writing. I assign this after they turn in their portfolio, and I collect it after the portfolio is graded and as it is returned, so my comments don’t influence their self-assessment, and they know their comments won’t affect my grade. I find this a very valuable exercise for most writers.
I may ask questions about the genres that we’ve studied, but I try not to ask for the kind of detail I’ve quizzed them on earlier in the semester (I give them 4 tests in the early weeks of the semester, so they can show they understood the material as we covered it.) On the final exam, the questions are more open-ended and allow students to tell me what they know and to use some of the terms we’ve discussed, but not to have to define terms or recall specific ones. They can describe the topic in their own words, too.
I often ask a question about the workshop experience and about the comments from other students that were most influential to their revision or the comments they gave others that were most insightful (in their opinion). I want students to reflect on the workshop experience, and I often get their opinions of the small group workshops and the full class workshops at the beginning and end of the semester respectively.
I want students to review and reflect before they come to the final because that will help reinforce what they’ve learned. But I don’t want them to have to memorize or cram for the exam, since that would defeat the purpose.
I always enjoy grading these exams, and they give me valuable insights into what has worked well this semester and what I may want to try next semester.