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!
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 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!