The Challenges of Judging a Children’s Writing Competition

Even though I’ve graded any number of school and university students’ papers, exams and projects, I’ve never enjoyed it. That’s an understatement. I loathe grading!

So why did I volunteer to join a judging committee for a children’s writing competition?

I suppose I felt it was a small way to give back to the larger writing community. I’ve been so lucky to have wonderful generous mentors and friends who’ve taken the time to give me advice and feedback.

In any case, what could be so hard about helping judge a children’s writing competition?

Plenty, as it turned out!

 

Tibbits Hill Schoolhouse, Brome County

The first challenge for me was judging ‘writing style’ which was – unsurprisingly – one of the items on the rubric we were given. Several stories were amazingly wild and woolly – but oh so bold and lively (and often very humorous). None of these made it through to the final round when the judges came together to make a collective selection. But should writing style only mean tidy?

Another was judging ‘creativity.’ My goodness, the sheer inventiveness of many of these stories, whether ‘well written’ or not, was simply mind-boggling. How to decide whether the creativity is a 4 or a 5?

But the biggest challenge for me was writing a comment for each piece.

Not a problem, was my first reaction. Over the years, in academia and with creative projects, I’ve given my share of constructive criticism. I may not enjoy grading but I love looking at a dance or story to search for ways to try to help the artist make it truly shimmer (or stomp or howl or whatever!).

Ah! But this was different. Only positive comments were allowed.

What was the point of that? How would the writers develop and move forward if one didn’t suggest ways their works might improve? Wouldn’t they just accept the positive comments and not bother to stretch themselves next time? Shouldn’t one encourage critical thinking? Re-visioning?

Whatever I thought, those comments had to be positive.

While some pieces required little effort and offered plenty of positives to write about, others were considerably more demanding.

It was so easy to see ways these less developed pieces could be improved. What could I say that was positive other than a generic “good job, keep writing”? But I didn’t feel that would be fair. The kids had obviously put a lot of work into their submissions and deserved more.

After going over them a couple more times, I realized there was always some little gem, something exciting and particular – a vivid image or unique simile, a snippet of very funny dialogue, a quirky plot twist. What fun! As I picked these out and wrote my comments I hoped the kids would not just take them as a pat on the head and a “good job” but would understand this might be the doorway to a particular innate strength in writing they possess, a strength they should write to, and develop.

What a privilege to see the potential and individuality of these young writers/storytellers.

 

Tibbits Hill Schoolhouse, Brome County

Tibbits Hill Schoolhouse was the doorway to education for English speaking schoolkids from 1844 until 1928. The one room fieldstone building in Brome County (Eastern Townships, Québec) remains in its original state, complete with long shared desks and benches, books, slates and blackboard.

Enjoy doors from around the world at Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors – click on the blue frog!

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14 thoughts on “The Challenges of Judging a Children’s Writing Competition

  1. Congratulations on finding a way to specifically show the students how their writing shines. I love that the old schoolhouse still stands in its original state, as a reminder of education’s historic importance in the area.

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    • As one comes up the hill and rounds the corner, the sight of the schoolhouse nestled there under the trees really gives a time travel jolt. I’m so glad a group from the community had the foresight to protect it.

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  2. I’m sure the children will appreciate the specificity of your comments. “Good job” is nice, but to compliment a specific part of their writing will help them zero in on what they did well and encourage them to continue doing their best. Good job! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Katie. I felt I wanted to send some notes to the teachers too. They are clearly doing a terrific job in getting their students excited about storytelling and writing.

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  3. What a wonderful old building! I will definitely check this place out the next time we head to the Townships.
    Sounds like you had a great time with this project. It’s not easy but it certainly is so important to encourage and nurture creativity in young people, before the struggles of adulthood drum it out of them 😉

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    • Funny you should say that, Norm. I actually deleted my sentence – “What happens to all this amazing creativity when we’re adults?” as I know so many creative people (and look at your Doors project!). Maybe it wouldn’t be so comfortable if all adults lived in a state of wild creativity and there’s only so much thinking outside the box possible in daily life, but…well… it does seem to me that the world could do with some new perspectives right now. Or at least, some adjustments! (Or is this a time of wild creativity and that’s why everything seems so off-kilter?)

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    • Haha! Love that thought! It’s true though….how well built is this door? and how creative was its builder in conveying his/her vision? Now I won’t be able to read another story without thinking of a door – which is also appropriate as a story is a door into someone else’s world, isn’t it?

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