On the first day of class, I like to have students perform a self-assessment of themselves and their creative writing knowledge. It isn't graded, but it feels like a quiz and records their attitudes and knowledge before the class starts.
After distributing the handout, students answer the questions as best they can, and then give themselves a grade. After they grade themselves, I collect the assessments and hold onto them until the end of the semester. I do not look at them. During the last week of class, I have students take the assessment again, give themselves a score in the same way, and then pass back the first-day assessments.
It is a very positive experience for everyone. Students are able to compare how much their thinking has changed and see how they have learned. They are always surprised to see how much their answers have changed, even though it has only been four months. They may not even recognize the person who wrote the answers on Day 1.
This survey comes mostly from one given to me by Keith Abbott, professor of creative writing at the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. When I first started teaching I was interested in contemplative pedagogy, but found few like-minded folks in my department. Desperate to bounce ideas off someone, I contacted Professor Abbott and spoke with him on the phone. He was very generous with his time and shared a number of his classroom materials with me, including his first-day survey. Unfortunately, he is no longer listed on the Jack Kerouac School's faculty page, which means Naraopa has lost an excellent teacher.
This survey was designed for an introductory creative writing class. Alter it so it best suits your class's needs, and let me know how it goes.
1. During your childhood, what types of art were in your house? Examples: paintings, music, sculptures, religious icons or objects, prints, flower arrangements, books, et cetera.
2. What is your first, earliest, strongest, experience with “art?” In other words, when you recognized that someone had made X or Y for your pleasure/ transformation/ edification?
3. How helpful is it for an author to have a group of readers who share his or her aesthetic principles or interests? Have you ever been in such a group?
4. What does “Standing in Someone Else’s Shoes” mean to you? When and why do you do it?
5. What writing are you working on right now? What have you worked on before this class?
6. Do you do any other art besides writing? Why?
7. Have you learned a skill / trade (carpentry, gardening, cooking, sports, martial arts)? Who from?
8. Have you ever had editorial work on your creative manuscript? i.e. has an editor or teacher and you gone through elements and structures of a story you wrote?
9. Have you ever edited someone else’s work? Yes / No
10. Have you given a reading or performance of your work? Yes / No
11. How many writing workshops have you taken, if any?
Prose______ Poetry______ Drama ______ Non-fiction______
How long were they? 1 weekend 1 week. 1-4 weeks 14 weeks
12. Have you ever walked out of (or ejected) a movie or play before it ended?
13. Have you ever thrown or torn up a book you didn’t like? Which one(s) and why?
14. How often do you think successful writers get rejected? (Circle one)
Some Not Much A Lot Too Much
15. When you decide whether to read a book, generally how far will you read before
you stop? (Circle one)
First page Ten Pages Skip Around End of first chapter
16. Do you read blurbs on the backs of books? Yes / No
Do you buy books because of blurbs? Yes / No
17. What authors do you RE-READ?
a. Why do you re-read them?
18. What TV show or movie do you think has good dialogue? What makes it good?
19. What skills as a writer do you think you possess? For example: Are you a good reader?
20. Why take a creative writing class? Can’t you just start writing on your own? What do you think is the purpose of creative writing education?
21. What are the three basic conflicts in fiction?
22. Draw a representation of the 3-act structure:
23. What is a literary journal and what is its role in a writer’s career?
Describe the differences between the following:
1. Narrative vs. Non-Narrative
2. Flat vs. Round Characters
3. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person point-of-view
4. Metaphor vs. Image
5. Passive vs. Active Voice
6. Novel vs. Novella
Define the following terms as best you can:
1. Epistolary Fiction
2. Flash Fiction
3. Magic Realism
4. Writers’ Workshop
5. Dramatic Monolog
6. Dialog Tag / Attributive Phrase
9. High Exposition
11. Narrative Summary