My basic directions are consistent across recordings. I grade based on three things:
1. Pronunciation of words
2. Rhythm: Does the student pause in the correct place? Does the student hesitate or go back and repeat words? Are they speaking too quickly? Too slowly?
3. Vocal variety: Does the student sound like he or she cares?
Though the above is not really how I phrase things.
I actually write the following:
Re: Overall instructions
You have an hour for this recording. These recordings are never more than a few minutes long, so you should do multiple takes and choose the best one.
You lose a point for each word you mispronounce. So, if a "t" or "s" appears at the end of a word, you need to pronounce it. For instance, the poet's name is Robert Frost, not Robber Fros. So be careful.
No one gets bonus points for finishing fastest. SLOW DOWN. If I can't hear the words clearly, then you've mispronounced them and you will lose points. Also, do not try to do this all in one breath. It just won't work.
Re: Vocal variety
Do not speak in a flat monotone. You need to sound like you care, even if you don't. PRETEND! USE YOUR IMAGINATION! It boils down to this... if you sound like a robot, that's bad. If you sound like a serial killer, that's worse. Seriously, if I start thinking to myself, "This student probably has bodies hidden in a crawl space somewhere", you will not do well.
Most of the time, they are given a selection of themed readings to choose from.
For instance, I have Walt Whitman week. Students have twelve of his poems to choose from. Now, the first time I used Walt Whitman poems, a student pointed out that many of his poems have an erotic or homoerotic subtext. A few students did not want to be exposed to that.
Okay, that's fine. Nothing is for everybody. So, to get around that, I now include the following disclaimer:
Many of these poems have erotic and homoerotic imagery. If you want to avoid those, recite O Captain! My Captain!. It's about Abraham Lincoln's assassination. No sex there.
This has worked out well.
I normally give my students a selection of readings for two reasons:
1) Giving them a choice keeps the complaints down. They can look to find something that they either like or find the one "that sucks the least."
2) It gives ME variety. Trust me, listening to thirty versions of the same thing gets old fast.
Having said that, during week eight, everyone has to recite The St Crispin's Day monologue from Shakespeare's Henry V.
So, to deal with this, I've included the following in my directions:
Here, Henry V is trying to raise the spirits of his men, who are grossly outnumbered and about to go into battle against the French. He believes that his forces can win this fight. And, historically, they did.
So, when you do this reading, I will be thinking to myself, "Would I follow this student into battle?"
If my answer is, "I wouldn't follow this student out of this room, much less into battle, you will not do well.
You MUST sound like you care. You MUST sound like a leader. You can youtube examples of this.
I have to listen to thirty of these recordings. DO NOT BORE ME! It goes like this: if I get bored while listening to this, I will italicize the line where I stop paying attention, and you lose .5 points for every line after that.
Interestingly, I have never had to penalize a student for boring me. Just threatening to makes them work a little harder. I mean sometimes, I'm listening to a student's recording and think to myself, "What the Hell is this?", but at least I'm not bored.