Student Composition in the High School Classroom as a Tool for Formative Assessment

My school system requires that final exams are administered in all classes at the end of each semester. In recent semesters, my finals have included written tests covering basic theory and history concepts, sight singing tests, singing literature from the most recent performance, and the project-based assessment I plan to describe in the next few posts. This project fosters student composition, revision, and singing new music right up through their final exam. To demonstrate their level of understanding of the key curricular concepts of the class, students will create their own original composition then teach it to peers using the rules from SCPA sight-reading as a guide. The class will sight-read each student composition.

Step 1: Select the text (I will spend 10 to 15 minutes a day for 4 to 7 days)
In past semesters, I have allowed students to write their own 4- to 8-line poetry for this piece of the project. However, this semester I plan to have them select poetry they have encountered in another class or select a poem from one of several literature books I acquired when our English department was purging old textbooks. Class discussions will include meter in poetry and the use of dictionaries to correctly determine syllabic breaks in polysyllabic words. Utilizing the modeling strategy, the gradual release of responsibility (I do – we do – you do) I will present the following poetry excerpt from “Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickenson (retrieved from poetryfoundation.org):

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

I will then demonstrate separating syllables with hyphens (as this will be necessary for rhythmic composition later):

Be-cause I could not stop for Death –
He kind-ly stopped for me –
The Car-riage held but just Our-selves
And Im-mor-tal-i-ty.

Then, underline the stressed syllable of each polysyllabic word:

Be-cause I could not stop for Death –
He kind-ly stopped for me –
The Car-riage held but just Our-selves
And Im-mor-tal-i-ty.

Finally, underline other stressed syllables (reading the poetry in a sing-song fashion may help students see the regularly recurring strong/weak syllables):

Be-cause I could not stop for Death
He kind-ly stopped for me
The Car-riage held but just Our-selves
And Im-mor-tal-i-ty.

Next, we will do a few other poetry examples together, including the next stanza of the above poem. When I feel that most students grasp the concept of meter in poetry, I will make an individual assignment and give a few minutes of class time for guided practice.

My directions to students will be:
1. Select 4 to 8 lines of a poem that is meaningful to you
2. Write the poem (or excerpt), hyphenating between syllables
3. Underline the stressed syllable of any polysyllabic word
4. Underline other stressed syllables

Please stay tuned to see how step 1 works for my students, a description of the next step in the project, and possible opportunities for differentiated instruction.