At Riverside Junior High, Stephanie Dalton’s 8th grade language arts classes just finished their study of Markus Zusak’s acclaimed novel, The Book Thief. In order to leave a lasting impression, Miss Dalton decided to replace her traditional assessment with something more authentic and relevant. Thus was born the power of words narrative. Believing that assessment should be meaningful, transferable, and engaging, Miss Dalton challenged her students to prove that words are powerful through narrative writing with a twist.
The first step for students was to find a group of words that had had some impact on their life, such as a quote, lyric, or piece of wisdom. The second step was to tell the story that surrounded that quote. Students shared the moment they heard the quote, or the moment they have seen the quote play out in their own lives. Step three was to record their narratives. Students recorded their narratives in their own voices on iPads. Then, presentation day! Students sat comfortably throughout the classroom, listening to each other’s stories.
The transformation that happened from a writing piece for a one-person audience to a verbal piece for a multi-person audience made all the difference. Students longed to create something that their peers appreciated. Students reflected and re-recorded when their writing was not excellent. And students left the room proud, as their classmates praised their stories and made connections to their own struggles. In this authentic, meaningful assessment, Miss Dalton’s students demonstrated their understanding of the most important message from Zusak’s novel: words are powerful.