Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

When You Have to Give Semester Finals

I’m required to give semester finals. I’m not saying I like it, but I have to do it.

This semester, I designed my finals based on the following criteria that I had set for myself:

  • Performance-based
  • Authentic and connecting to the non-school world
  • Incorporating several concepts from this semester’s lessons

What I ended up doing was–bear with me–an essay test. But I did my best to create ones to meet the above criteria. Here’s what we did in each class.

College Composition. Essentially, I wanted students to demonstrate their ability to state a claim, provide evidence and details to support it, and give reasoning to explain why the evidence and details were important. I also wanted to include some grammar and vocabulary learned this semester. Most of all, I wanted it to be authentic–something they wanted or at least needed to do.

The result: Scholarship essays. I provided prompts from The Common Application but also invited students to bring in their own prompts for specific scholarships they wanted to apply to. Students could then actually use their essays in the future; they also paid attention to my feedback and made adjustments AFTER THE ESSAYS WERE SCORED!


English 3. We’d just finished reading Macbeth, and honestly, I hadn’t planned for enough time to do much for connecting the play to our real world as we progressed through the play, so that made real-world connections important for our semester test. Also, we’d analyzed many non-fiction articles this semester, so I wanted to incorporate a non-fiction article into the test as well. This lead to two choices for students to select from:

  1. How accurate is the play Macbeth with the actual Macbeth who lived in the 1300s?  Write an argument using our reading of Macbeth and the article from
  2. What personality disorders would you diagnose Macbeth with at the conclusion of the play?  Write an argument using our reading of Macbeth and the article from the Mayo Clinic

This Macbeth assignment doesn’t provide as much choice or authenticity as the scholarship writing, but it still provides some choice and real-world connections, which was my goal. Most students selected the personality disorder analysis and demonstrated excellent reading of both the article and the play in their essays, including doing outside research and speculating about other conditions Macbeth suffered that wasn’t included in the original article, such as PTSD.

What about grading these essays?

I keep it simple, using Google comments and rubric that I copy/paste into each paper when I first begin reading. After I’m finished reading and commenting, I highlight each of the boxes in the table that represents the level of this writing.


  1. Melissa, I love these ideas – especially that first gem!
    Can I provide some feedback? One thing I would change is “advanced.” I’ve read Tom Guskey’s book about SBG report cards, and he makes a great argument for not using “advanced.” “Proficient” should be the top, in his eyes. We’re working with “Does not meet,” “Developing,” and “Meets” for our middle school report cards.
    Question about these essays – does that mean you’ll be looking at them all weekend long??? Will the work of an English teacher ever end? 😲
    Thanks for writing and sharing this, Melissa!! Good to hear from you!

    • Melissa Pilakowski

      December 29, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      Thanks, Joy! I do appreciate the feedback. I need to read Tom Guskey’s book 🙂 My concern with not having a level beyond proficient would be those students who come into the classroom at a proficient grade-level already. I want them to keep believing that there are levels beyond. I could do this through narrative feedback, perhaps? I do emphasize to my students that proficient is definitely the target. How do you communicate to proficient students to not rest on their laurels and to keep working to improve?

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