I have now finished grading the essay portion of the exam for all of my 8th graders, and I see even more anecdotal evidence for the strengths of the reading program, and perhaps the dictations and free writes.
1. The essays were longer than in previous years. Even students who struggle with Spanish were easily writing more than 80 words. The minimum is 70 although I tell the students 80 so that in case they balk they have hopefully still met the minimum. I have not run across a single essay that didn't meet the 80 word limit, and most have surpassed 100. Yay!
2. Students are using complex grammatical structures and verb tenses. One student wrote "Yo nací en ______" Other students have used the hace verb structure. I am finding far fewer errors with gustar and the future tense than in previous years. The use of transitions has also improved, and the essays are flowing more smoothly.
3. Students are using impressive vocabulary words, but I can tell that the words they are using are words of high-interest to each individual student. They aren't necessarily words I have taught or used in class, but words students have latched on to through their readings. Students are writing about the patas on their pets! (That means paw, but it's a word it took me years to master, if I have yet. I just ran across a new use of the word in one of our class readings last week.)
4. The variety of the essays is impressive. They each had the same topic, but the writing is far less formulaic than I am accustomed to. Students have branched out from the typical first year essay and are including areas I had not thought would juxtapose with the topic. (I'm not allowed to talk about the topic, in case the exam is compromised, so you just have to take my word for it.)
Even the students who are struggling have been able to put twists on their essays, and to write beyond what I thought their capabilities - especially in a timed exam - were.
3 hours ago