The teacher can serve as the sole judge for a classroom contest. At the school finals, 3 judges should be sufficient—a group of teachers may serve as judges, or you may invite some community members to judge the contest. Appropriate judges might be local poets, actors, professors, arts reporters, politicians, or members of the school board. Judges should have some knowledge of poetry, although they need not be experts. Be sensitive to conflicts of interest—actual or perceived—with your judging panel.
A copy of the Poetry Out Loud contest evaluation sheet can be downloaded here. Print the evaluation sheets before the school contest, and fill in the names of the participants and the titles of the poems. Have these in the order of recitation before the competition, with one set for each judge.
Prepare the judges in advance:
- Send them the students’ poems ahead of time, printed out or electronically, so they are familiar with them and can assign consistent complexity scores. No judge other than the accuracy judge should be following along with the printed text during recitations—they will be too distracted.
- Send them a printed copy of the Judge’s Guide, and invite them to view the Judging Poetry Out Loud video. Invite them to ask questions or schedule an orientation or conference call prior to the contest so all judges have consistent scoring advice. (Note: The video is from 2011 and refers to the "Level of Complexity" score as "Level of Difficulty").
- Encourage them to view the video examples of National Finals recitations on the Poetry Out Loud website; they can practice scoring these before the competition.
During the competition, separate the judges a bit from the rest of the audience so they are not distracted. Judges should not have any interaction with the contestants or the audience until after the competition has ended. Judges should not convene to discuss their scores—they should rate recitations independently and then immediately turn in their evaluation sheets. This practice not only keeps the contest moving, but also ensures that judges are scoring independently, based on merit only. Warn judges that they will not be able to revisit scores after they turn them in.
After each recitation, the score tabulator or an assistant will collect the completed contest evaluation sheets. The accuracy judge’s score will be added to each evaluation sheet as scores are tabulated. Scoring is cumulative; the scores from each round should be totaled to determine the winner.
Assign a separate person to serve as an accuracy judge. The accuracy judge will mark missed or incorrect words during the recitation. Print out the accuracy score sheets before the contest, and fill in the names of the participants and the titles of the poems they will recite. Have these in the order of recitation before the competition, and give one set to the accuracy judge. The accuracy judge will also need a notebook with a large-font copy of each poem, in the order of recitation, so he or she may follow along with recitations and assign accuracy scores. The accuracy score is added to the contest evaluation sheet of each judge.