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This lesson is the first in series of lessons on writing an evaluative essay. Students are assigned to write a five paragraph essay on the play "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" determining whether or not the play should be taught at their school in the future. The main objective in this lesson is to familiarize students with the concept of evaluating and establishing and using criteria to evaluate.
I begin the lesson by asking the students: What makes a good hunting rifle? This is a relevant question to my students because hunting rifles are complicated purchases with accessories and add-ons, and no one person will have the exact same rifle. I also know that 85% or more of my class misses at least one day of school during hunting season, and as the season is just ending I know they are still thinking about hunting.
The students throw out quite a few different categories: weight, stock, caliber, game, etc. I write their suggestions on the board under the word: Criteria.
I explain to the students that when you are evaluating something it's important to know why you are evaluating it. What is my purpose using this tool? Will my purpose change? What do I value when I am going to make a decision?
Evaluations are not based on opinion, I explain, but on a set of pre-determined criteria, which rely heavily on facts. We can all agree that the rifle T---(a 6'1" 300 lb. student) will not be the same as C-- (a 5'4" 110 lb. student). T---& C--- have a different set of criteria, and they will have to think about what those criteria are, and how they determine which rifle would be the best for them.
I explain to the students, "What you like is not the same as what is good. For example, I like chocolate. I like it because I think it tastes good, and because it is versatile. But I also have an opinion about chocolate: and my opinion is that chocolate is a gift from the gods, especially when I've had a particularly stressful day."
In fact, I really don't need to explain why I like chocolate, it's simply my opinion. And that's fine. But, when it comes to a larger decision: which car should I purchase, or even more importantly what texts am I going to teach in my classes, I have to have some justification, I'm thinking beyond just myself then, and that is my criteria.
On the board I make a list of the different categories we chose for our criteria. We then go back to the criteria that the students listed for rifles, and we started to eliminate those criteria that served no clear purpose. Instead we narrowed the list down until each student had his or her own. I explain to the students that having more than four or five different criteria can slow down the evaluation process and keep them from forming a clear opinion.
We then thought about how we would go about checking the rifles against the criteria, and which resources we would use. The students were so enthused about this project I almost felt bad about turning it into a project about the play we'd just read.
I then introduced the idea of deciding whether or not The Two Gentlemen of Verona should be taught in Simms to a senior high school English class. We discussed the difference between liking the play and whether or not it had merit in the classroom.
We considered criteria like moral lesson, craft & style, relatability, reading difficulty, and others. We discussed the importance of students feedback and classroom cohesion. That simply because a student doesn't "like" a play doesn't mean it shouldn't be taught. That once the criteria has been established then it's up to the students to objectively decide whether or not the play met those criteria.
I then hand-out the paper assignment sheet which has what I've just explained to them written out. I spend time on each aspect of the assignment: purpose, audience, and context. I want students to think of this assignment as authentically as possible. Because they have never written an evaluation before I also include an outline to help them think about the optimal way to organize the paper and stay on topic. We then set a due date as a class because I want them to feel confident that they have enough time to complete the assignment.