Destiny, Fate, or Free Will?: Unit, Part III, From Oedipus to "Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian"

See (Part I)           See (Part II)

V. Assessment

Whether you opt to use a traditional assessment or a project-based assessment, you’ll want to make sure that it is authentic. Ultimately, what did you want students to come away with from this text? Have you emphasized what you wanted them to “get”?

Although the reading of Oedipus could have taken many different turns, here, we’ve emphasized structure, major themes, some literary terms, the use of a Chorus, and dramatic irony. Thus, the assessment should reflect that students comprehend the same. 

Providing students with a choice in how they convey their understanding may prove beneficial. In the past, I’d have students create their own four-question essay response exam. One particular question that almost always emerged (in various forms) was:

Why is the theme of blindness/knowing and seeing/ignorance in the characters of Teiresias and Oedipus significant to the play?  What does Sophocles want to say about this human characteristic?

Keep in mind that the students arrived at this question, which is a powerful motivator for performance. 

A multitude of project-based assessments could work, but the key is to make sure you don’t indulge in frivolous projects. That’s the clincher. To have students research Ancient Greek theatre is nice, but for the goals of an English course, how does it connect to their understanding of the key concepts you want them to come away with? 

Consider the question above as a guide. It’s a great test question, but in what other ways might a student creatively respond? What if you asked students to demonstrate the peripeteia of Oedipus in dance, his hamartia in art or music, using textual support? What if a student could create a three-dimensional project that aptly conveyed the structure of the play or the irony? 

These are just a few ideas, but the goal is to make sure the assessment reflects what you’ve emphasized and allows students to convey their understanding.

Finally, after a test or at the end of project presentations, include a “fun” something that shows students that by knowing what they now know, they perhaps have a new, enhanced outlook on things. Here’s an example that would work well:

Not only does the format work well with this age-group, but the over-arching question can be revisited with a new perspective. Again, emphasize that they can only appreciate the “joke”, here, by having read Oedipus. 

Another option is on a more serious note, and this 10 minute commencement speech by Alan Kay is very powerful, embracing the theme of knowledge and seeing:

VI. A transition assignment is often overlooked, but this “bridge” is important in maintaining momentum between texts within a larger unit. It also further cements the cohesion of the unit and reinforces the significance of it.

Before handing out the new text, Alexie’s The Absolutely TrueDiary of a Part-time Indian, ask students about their lives. The movement from a text that is removed from their experience to one that’s a bit closer is a purposeful choice. It is an application of a more difficult text to their lives and their search for self. 

They've engaged in a "riches to rags" or the decline of someone in power (pretty far removed from where they are, now), but what about the opposite? What about a coming of age (you may want to introduce the term bildungsroman) or an incline?

Have a discussion on where they see themselves now and twenty years in the future. What may come is the everyday emotional “junk”, including bullying. 

How do victims of bullying overcome it? How do nerds become rich? What happens to the popular people from high school? How can we get from where we are, to where we are destined to be (for pre-destinationers) or where we want to be (Free Will-ers)?

Tell your students that today they are going to visit the Oracle of ___(your high school). It’s up to you how you create this (a decorated box will do just fine), but the idea is to get students to “pull” their destinies from the Oracle. (You might have some fun bringing in a mystery guest, too, just to liven things up.)

Create strips of paper that present likely scenarios with at least one out-of-the-ordinary point. For example:

You are destined to write a novel that examines the life of a famous person. You will be betrayed by someone close to you, but you will forgive this person. 

Students pull their strips and reflect on one of these prompts in a journal assignment: 

Presuming that you support pre-determinism and that the Oracle is “real”, how will you ensure that you meet this destiny? 

Or, if you're in the “Free Will” camp, why is the Oracle’s prediction invalid? What choices will you need to make to meet the goals you've set, instead?

If you have time permitting, consider reading a few pages from the text. If not, assign chapters for reading (or the whole book), depending on what day you land in the week. 


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