The Walden Test. Three words that once struck terror in the hearts of my IB English A eleventh-grade students. It became something of an initiation rite into the rigor of DP-level English. Why? It is not a very difficult test, but it is very thorough (Thoreau?) and requires very good knowledge of the work. It was apparently the first time students sat for an assessment that required deep understanding of the work and the ability to think about it. That throws kids off, I suppose.
I am very proud of this test. It started with modification of a previous test on Walden created by the great John Denine and Linda Young. I made it my own, and it was refined over several years' use. It represents what I believe is the essence of effective assessment.
What you get are two versions, one created for 50-minute periods and another intended for 90-minute periods. You can obviously mix and match elements between the two. The 90-minute version came from an era when students actually tried; the newer one is as adulterated as I could go without losing the essence of the activity.
Each section of the test is intended to scaffold skills. Students should spend the least amount of time of the first parts and the most time on the last ones. This is an intentional skill-building aspect: Answer the question and move on. IB- and AP-level students need to learn to get to the point with minimal wasted verbiage, so I also prescribe a specific amount of space for responses. Write past the lines and that bit gets crossed off, not to be read. Again, a skill-builder.
The first section requires students to locate an example of personification, simile, or metaphor in the work. Yes, I let student use their books. They quickly discover that it takes too long to do so, however.
The second section offers quotes from Walden to which students compose brief (as in two lines' worth) responses. Simple and straightforward.
The third section is comprised of quotes from people other than H.D. Thoreau: Students first decide whether or not Thoreau would agree with the statement (a tricky thing since some quotes can go both ways) and then back up their assertion(s) with precise evidence. Two lines for responses again.
The next section lists some concepts specific to Walden and Thoreau. Students pick a few and write brief paragraphs explaining what the concepts mean and how they relate to Thoreau's philosophies. The more detail, the better the score. And scores start increasing in value, you might notice.
The next section has several short essay questions. I am especially proud of a few of these. Students pick a few and answer.
If you have 90 minutes, the last section requires a commentary on a significant excerpt from Walden. I provide three different excerpts: I would use all three in an administration session, but you can use only one or two. Or three. Students write on separate paper and attach it to the finished test.
The test itself is very much an exercise in learning. Students need to use time effectively, a valuable skill. Many will spend too much time on the first few parts and then rush through the later parts that carry most of the credit. It is a very thinking-skills oriented test: Rote knowledge of Walden will be of little value. Understanding Thoreau's ideas and then analysis of what they mean to readers means everything for this assessment. The scaffolded nature of the test is intentional in that elements students might need to know for later questions are hinted at in earlier sections.
This is a bit weird for me. This test is my baby, but I have moved onto another school and The Walden Test will no longer be administered. It was always fun to show students their tests at the end of the year and watch them laugh at what seemed so daunting at the time. We all move on and grow. The sun is but a morning star.
Twenty years in three states and four countries other than the U.S. I started out teaching ESL/EFL, but the last ten years have seen me specialize in IB English A1 HL. I have taught nearly every grade level and competency at the high school level.