Today, the students came in knowing that they were going to do a timed writing as their final assessment for Romeo and Juliet. Yesterday, I introduced them to the Writing prompt (which we had been talking about for a while), and students had some time to take notes and come up with a strategy for their argumentative essay.
Basically, the topic was "Whose fault was this tragedy?" This question is not original at all -- I am sure that a million teachers have asked the same question. Though I have taught Romeo and Juliet many times, I have never used this question as a final assessment. This year, I decided to do it because my students were really "into" the topic. There has been a lot of debate and very emotional responses to the events of the play. So, I decided to ride the wave. I also made that choice because I feel confident that my kids have really been immersed in the study of this play, so the additional "motivation" provided by a reading test was not necessary.
So, as I mentioned before, the students came in knowing that they would be writing. They were allowed to use their notes and their books, and I took questions about the essay format/Rubric and also reviewed how they could choose to include a concession (a "formal" concession in paragraph form is not mandated by our county rubric, nor are the students ready for such a demanding assignment.
I circulated while they wrote, just to monitor progress. This is the first "real" timed writing that they have had, and they did a great job. I gave them warnings at 30 minutes and again at 10-15. Everyone finished with no whining (except that their hands hurt -- Yes, this old teacher made them actually write it. How barbaric!)
The results? Overall, the papers were really, really good. Some kids missed the mark because I still have a few who spend WAY too much time summarizing plot and regurgitating our talking points from class. But, for the most part, students took the ball and ran with it.
Here's a really good example. Great argumentative essay: "Tybalt's Chain"