An Artifact

Posted on December 1, 2010Filed Under Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer | 10 Comments

When I was a BTSA* mentor a few years ago, part of the assessment phase of the operation was the collection of what they call artifacts. These are pieces of evidence from the classroom for all the platitudes we spew on the forms. These would be things like quizzes and tests and project assignments, as well as student work in response to these things.

I offer, for your consideration tonight, the following artifact. (You like that nod to Rod Serling?) I will withhold my comments, including my reasons for withholding my comments. However, I REALLY want to see what you have to say. REALLY.

Just a bit of background: This was a test for an advanced 7th grade English class who had just finished Tom Sawyer. Seventh. Grade. They had one period in which to complete it. This is real.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Final Essay Exam

Respond to ONE of the following prompts with a complete essay:

1) Reread Twain’s “Author’s Preface” and his “Conclusion.” How do these short pieces help a reader read the novel well?  How do they serve as clues that might guide a reader toward a meaningful reading of the work, guide him or her away from a superficial reading? Support with evidence and explanation.

2) In Keith Neilson’s “Afterword,” which is included at the end of our edition, he asserts that “Tom Sawyer is, first and last and always, a fun book” (235). Argue against this claim. Support with evidence and explanation.

3) In the final paragraph of chapter 28, Huck seems ambivalent (unclear on his position) about his view of Uncle Jake, and apparently of blacks in general. Briefly summarize his opposing views. It should be clear to Huck that racist policies promoting hatred and discrimination are wrong because he has evidence /first hand experience showing that a whole race of people can’t be accurately labeled and judged–he knows good-hearted slaves. Why is it not clear to him, and what does his ambivalence show about the morals and ethics of the entire society? Support all statement/ideas with specific evidence and complete explanation (circle back to statement as you explain).

EXTRA! EXTRA! You may earn extra points if you include within your argument on one of the prompts above valid ideas on how Twain’s book, written in the American realist period, 1865-1910, highlights the tension between opposing philosophies of two previous eras: neoclassicism and romanticism.

Your thoughts?

*Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment – These days, all new teachers in California have to go through two years of someone like me observing them and hounding them to do useless paperwork and “supporting” them before they can clear their credential. I did three years “supporting” two different teachers. We all felt my strength was in the circumvention of most of the paperwork.


10 Responses to “An Artifact”

  1. Janay on December 1st, 2010 9:21 pm

    Those sound like some “mighty” difficult essay questions. I teach 7th grade Honors classes, and maybe, just MAYBE, one of two of the top kids could even really get a clear idea of what the questions are even asking. Those questions called for some pretty insightful thoughts and deep analyzing. I wouldn’t want to have to grade the mess I would get for answers to those!

  2. Ashley on December 2nd, 2010 6:58 am

    There is NO WAY any seventh grader I’ve ever taught could come close to answering those questions unless they had them and we discussed them ahead of time and I let them take notes on the answers, then use those notes to write their essay. Then I could get maybe five quality answers. The tenth graders I’ve taught couldn’t even answer those questions!

  3. Mrs. M~ on December 2nd, 2010 8:22 am

    Oh good grief. Which delusional person copied and pasted those essay questions from his or her college literature test?

  4. Taylor on December 2nd, 2010 12:03 pm

    I agree. My seventh graders would not even understand the questions in order to attempt to answer them.

  5. Meg on December 2nd, 2010 4:31 pm

    Good golly Miss Molly… For a sit down test with sevies, no way. Now if you were spending two weeks writing an analysis paper where the teacher reads over the rough draft and then they revise it, those MIGHT be some topic ideas.

  6. mrC on December 2nd, 2010 6:16 pm

    @ Mrs. M. – Best. Comment. Ever.

  7. mrC on December 2nd, 2010 6:30 pm

    @ Meg – I haven’t heard that one in a while. I might hafta start using it.

  8. mrC on December 2nd, 2010 6:34 pm

    @Janay – That was the first thing I said: “I can’t even imagine slogging through whatever you might get from that sort of prompt.”

  9. mrC on December 2nd, 2010 6:37 pm

    @Ashley – I would have shoveled a load of BS two feet deep as a junior at the university. In seventh grade I would have done the same, but it would have been six feet deep.

  10. Heather on December 9th, 2010 12:26 pm

    I don’t think I could get that extra credit, and I have a B.A. in English!

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