Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lightning Thief Performance Assessment

One of the assessments for the first part of The Lightning Thief unit is this:

My Hero’s Journey Narrative

In this performance task, students will have a chance to apply their knowledge of the elements and purpose of myth as well as their deep understanding of the hero’s journey. Through a series of narrative writing lessons, students will create their own hero’s journey story that includes key elements of myth. Students will create a hero set in the ordinary world. They will then create a problem and a series of events that align with the stages of the hero’s journey. They will use descriptive details, sensory language, and transitional phrases to create an engaging reading experience. They will write a conclusion that naturally unfolds from the series of events. This performance task centers on NYSP12 ELA Standards RL.6.3, W.6.3, W.6.4, W.6.5, W.6.6, W.6.11c, L.6.2 and L.6.3. 

What this means is that students will create a personal narrative based in the real world that goes on the hero's journey. It's essentially a creative writing piece, but there's something about this which troubles me. This unit is being taught to sixth graders, meaning they're about eleven years old. Most kids this age have a pretty naive idea of how the world works — one of my problems with The Lightning Thief as well — and create tasks like this tend to bring this out.

This is not meant as a criticism for sixth graders. I was the same way at that age. Yet if we're going to set this story in the real world, why not do something a little more grounded, say, and find the biography of somebody real and heroic, like Gandhi or George Washington or Jacques Cousteau. That way the comparison could be more meaningful within the real-world context of the assignment.

Assignments like this are a lot of fun, but creative assignments are a lot more difficult than initially laid out in the assignment. There are issues of craft — voice, point of view, narrative consistency, theme — which are essential but hard to address in an assignment like this. I worry that this will be a check box type of work, the character did this, then that, then faced this, all part of the hero's journey but is this a deep understanding of what the journey is?

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