Teaching writing is not for the faint-hearted. Assessing writing is even less so.
For years, I have struggled in vain to find the perfect system — “objective” one-size-fits-all trait-based rubrics, rubrics I have created, rubrics my students have created. None ever seems to accurately measure what I see in a student’s writing. And while I have always offered my students the opportunity to revise for a brand new grade, very few do it. While I offer copious feedback, the number on the rubric is still the bottom-line for most of my kids.
It doesn’t work.
I want assessment to be one more step in moving writers forward in their craft.
After being inspired by many in my Twitter feed, I decided to try a kind of standards-based grading of writing for the last three workshops of the year. In thinking it through, I have realized that what I really want is to feel assured that my students have mastered — not just dabbled in or been introduced to — certain skills before they move to the next grade. I would like to be able to provide that information to their new teacher.
So, this is the new grading policy I developed (and sent home to parents):
- We will continue our regular writing workshop routines and practices — mini-lessons, conferring, sharing in writing groups.
- Final drafts of papers will still be due on a given due date.
- I will assess each paper, providing copious feedback, and a chart, in which I deem each skill as mastered, approaching, developing, or not present.
- If a student has mastered all of the skills, he/she will receive a 100 in the gradebook.
- If a student has yet to master a skill or skills, he/she will have three weeks to revise that paper as many times as he/she desires in the pursuit of mastering all skills. These students can make appointments with me for additional conferring.
- Each time a student submits a revision, I will look at it anew, provide feedback, and assess the skills on the student’s chart.
- At the end of the three weeks, if all skills have not been mastered, students will receive a score based on the number of skills mastered.
Here is what the skills chart for our theme analysis unit looks like. These skills are the same mini-lessons that I taught in this unit:
I copied this chart into each student’s Google folder, and highlighted the appropriate boxes.
I also kept track of charts for whole classes so that I could see which skills were being mastered and being neglected across the board when students submitted work. Here is the chart for one of my classes during our editorial unit. A blue line indicates that the student mastered every skill. An “X” signifies that the individual skill wasn’t mastered:
Through my little experiment, I’ve identified some pros and cons to this approach:
My one-woman jury is still out. While I certainly think this is more effective than my old rubric-based grades, I am still struggling to find ways to engage every student.
Where do you stand? What are your golden tips for assessing student writing — strategies that actually move students writing forward? How have you approached standards-based assessment in your classroom? Connect with us in the comments or on Twitter @rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett.