Some of my wise colleagues have asked, “What is the purpose of exams?”  This question arises from discussion of how many exams students should take, if any.  I believe exams can teach us something, and I want to offer three lessons from my reading of the Poetry section of the May 2015 exam.  First, I am happy to report that  a significant number of people expressed the pleasure, even joy, they have felt in reading and writing poems. For example, one student remarks, “Now I enjoy writing poems much more than I did in August.”  Not everyone feels this way, but more than a few have expressed such feelings.   Secondly, a handful of people observed that their response to Poetry Fridays changed over time.  One student, for instance, described her evolving attitude this way: “At first I felt that poetry Fridays had been a waste of time. Over the semester, however, I began to see how the lessons taught through the poems were impacting my writing, and made me a more culturally aware reader.” Such people started the year unexcited, skeptical or critical of the plan.  As the weeks progressed, they found themselves not only looking forward to this work, but also experiencing greater confidence in their abilities to interpret and compose poems.  I believe that confidence and enjoyment often go hand in hand.  Lastly, the exams are teaching me more about the term “relevance.”  I am discovering that some students, not everyone but a significant number, define the term differently than I and other adults do.  For example, more than one student answered the third question (How do you feel about our poetry studies this year?) by describing the emotional and intellectual impact these studies have had on them.  These same students begin the last question (What personal relevance do our studies have for you?) by saying that the poetry work has had little or no relevance.  A paradoxical juxtaposition of answers.  As best as I can tell at the moment, these students judge relevance according to how much the visible aspects of their own lives resemble those of the poems’ authors and subjects.   Next year, I want to explore this term further, in order to close the gap between my understanding and the students’.  In the meantime, on to the Doll’s House section of the exam.

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