Monday, October 12, 2015

Writing for Contests

And I'm The Judge

If you've ever entered a writing contest and not won, perhaps it's time to hear from the judge.

Recently, I was asked to judge a contest with essay written by high school students. The topic was: "A Solution to Conflict Resolution in Your High School."  The background information suggested that because of diverse culture groups in schools, there was often conflict among students with different beliefs and backgrounds. Contestants were asked to discuss the problem and then pose a program to adopt in their schools to resolved these issues.

There were a dozen essays submitted. Even though they were digitally submitted, I ended up printing them out as it was much easier for me to judge them on paper. (The teacher in me has old habits that die hard.)

My first read-through separated the top essays pretty quickly. How?  Grammar, spelling, and construction mistakes were a top priority.  One student, for example, wrote and entire two page essay as one paragraph. Another had repeated spelling errors. Another had sentences that simply did not make any sense.
One essay, impeccably written, only focused on analyzing the problem of conflict and its causes, never once proposing a solution or school program. Of all, that was the most disappointing, as the student missed the entire purpose of the essay.

Several of the essays I eventually rejected as top placers suggested similar solutions of assembly programs and rather ordinary solutions.  What I was hoping to see were some original and creative ideas.

Ultimately, I ended up with four essays in the top tier. All were extremely well-written, and all had fresh new ideas.  At that point, the judging came down to deciding just which ideas were the best of the best.  I finally decided on a Fantasy Friend program which set up a plan to pair students of different ethnic/social backgrounds based on mutual interests and a proposal for a Food Festival where students would share cultures through sharing ethic dishes. Of the group, these were the two most innovative and well-described projects.

It was not easy to decide from the essays presented. Surprisingly, the two winners were freshman students.  One older student wrote an impressive essay full of high level vocabulary that simply did not communicate its ideas well. Another simply proposed bringing in speakers from outside the school to present formal talks to students--not particularly innovative. So, in this case, the younger students had the edge in both innovation and communication.

All the essays were eventually published in a booklet presented at the awards ceremony.  I was unable to attend due to my recent surgery, but I did put a statement in the booklet, commending each contestant and charging students to put their words into practice by working to establish their programs in their own schools. "Words to have great power. Converted into action, they can change the world."

My only concern is that I found out later that one of the people who helped with the booklet had proofread the essays and made some corrections. This was not a happy discovery. As I noted before, some of the essays were judged lower because of grammar and spelling errors. If those were "cleaned up" for publication, then others reading the essays might well question my judgment in scoring them.

I stand by my decisions, as any judge must. Overall, it was a wonderful experience to read the essays and see so much good writing from our students. I wish them all well, and hope they do find a way to put those ideas into action.

Hands Shake Clip Art

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