I know students don't like tests. But sometimes teachers don't either. First you have to make them up, that means deciding what content you want to cover and what format you want to use. Essay - hard to grade but easy to create. Short answer or multiple choice - easy to grade but hard to create. Though it's a lot easier now with computers. We had to type them on a stencil and run them off on the mimeograph machine. And as soon as you handed them out, the students would smell them. Apparently, the fumes are somewhat toxic.
Then teachers have the fun of grading them. If students do poorly on a test, teachers wonder what went wrong. Honestly, we don't enjoy giving poor grades to students. But every once in a while you get an answer that turns the drudgery of grading a paper into laughter.
I once asked students to write a paragraph explaining why there were so many versions of medieval ballads. The answer is that they were passed down by word of mouth for several centuries. One student told me that the ladies who lived in castles had long hair, and on the days that they washed their hair, they leaned out of the windows of the towers of the castles and let their hair down to dry.
While they were waiting for their hair to dry, they yelled to the ladies in the castles over the next hills who were also drying their hair, telling stories and singing ballads, and the songs were often misheard since the distance between castles was so great. This was senior English, yet somehow he got ballads confused with Rapunzel.
I also got a great answer on a reading check test on "Ivanhoe." I love "Ivanhoe." I think it is one of the most perfectly plotted of books; the good guys win and the bad guys lose, and they all get their just rewards (except maybe for Isaac and Rebecca) and all the plots are intertwined. Plus I like to get my history through novels. You get Robin Hood, bad King John and Richard the Lionheart, all in one book. Anyway, the question was how did Rebecca escape the advances of the Templar. The student drew a picture of a lady in medieval dress on the top of a castle tower with a speech bubble which said, "Stop, or I'll jump!" That was the right answer.
But my favorite answer by far was on a test over "Macbeth." I listed most of the characters in the play and asked the students to explain how each died and by whose hand. One student told me Banquo had been mashed to death. When I returned the papers, I asked that student why he thought Banquo had been mashed to death. He earnestly said it was in the book. He got out his text and flipped the pages until he got to the scene where Banquo is killed. The stage directions said the murderers "set upon him and killed him."
My sister once asked her students to write a paragraph. The directions said the literature of colonial New England and the literature of the colonial South are radically different. Can you explain why? Her favorite answer was, "yes."
At one time another teacher and I taught the advanced freshmen classes and we tried to plan together and give the same tests. When we taught short stories, she had a different text than I did, and although we taught mostly the same stories, a few were different. It was my turn to type the test, and I didn't want to type two stencils. So I typed the test using my short stories and ran off the number of copies that I needed. Then I took another stencil and typed in the questions for the two or three stories that were different from my book. I cut the questions out and taped them to the first stencil. Then I ran off another set of tests. The only problem was I pasted them in upside down. The students never could figure out how that teacher was able to type upside down.
Paula Travis is a Newton County resident and retired schoolteacher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.