Writing the Perfect Essay with Evernote

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but several of my students have earned C’s and D’s and even F’s on writing assignments! I’ve even had students get B’s and “low” A’s!

Why have I “allowed” this?
Shouldn’t every essay be perfect?
Is that even possible?

These are a few questions I’ve wrestled with as an English teacher. However, on our most recent writing assignment (a 5-paragraph argumentative essay), every student scored a 98% or better. And they worked to make it happen.

Here’s how it happened:

1. Students were given two deadlines: one for the first draft and one for the final draft (3 weeks later).

2. Students were given autonomy in choosing the topic. Some argued having better school lunches, some argued why their parents should let them buy a video game, and some argued why our dress code should be changed. Any topic was fair game as long as they kept their audience in mind.

3. Students were given a clear, firm rubric to follow that matches our state’s standards plus a few more challenging additions focused on connecting with the reader and establishing a clear call-to-action.

4. Students were given time to write in class. Often.

The first drafts were due before Thanksgiving break. After reading and commenting (more questions than revisions), I then scanned each draft and put it in each student’s Evernote writing portfolio. I then passed back each copy (in a plastic sheet protector– extremely helpful especially when dealing with so many different drafts!) and waited for the next draft.

Students could turn in as many drafts as often as they wanted, and they had until the final draft deadline to submit a perfect* essay. Some turned in one more draft and were all set. Some turned in 6 or 7. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t enter a grade until the essay was perfect. I have never seen so many self-proclaimed “non-writers” work so hard to find their unique voice and style.

As each draft came in, I read it, compared it to the previous draft, commented on it, scanned it, and returned it. As the drafts stacked up, Evernote helped me stay organized. It may sound like more grading for me, but it really wasn’t. As each draft improved, they were easier and more enjoyable to grade, and I was really able push each of my students. (One student told me that on his next essay he’s going to spend 3 hours on the first draft so he doesn’t have to keep revising it.)

It was an awesome experience. Thanks to our Evernote portfolios, progress is clear, students can be proud of their finished product, and they are able to see how far they came as writers. Most importantly, each student now has a model essay of their best work and will be able to use it as a reference on their next writing assignment.

I can’t wait until our next round of essays– they’re going to be awesome!

*Because several of my students’ essays were handwritten, I gave them the option of scoring a 98% according to the rubric rather than having them rewrite the essay to make minor corrections. Surprisingly, many didn’t take the 98% and instead chose to re-write their essays to make them perfect!