Gentle readers, when we were last together, I shared some ideas for assessing the spirit of workshop with an emphasis on assessing both process and product without looking for perfection.
Instead, in writing workshop, we look for growth.
When we consider assessment separate from grading (something too personal, too school-by-school to really make broad recommendations here), the question becomes: What does it look like to assess growth rather than “objectively” assessing each final product as a potential masterpiece unto itself?
I want to share two concrete strategies that have worked for me.
Teach Students to Track & Reflect On Their Own Process
If writing workshop values process as much as (or potentially even more than!) product, we can start assessing growth in the writing process by asking writers to track their process.
It takes work to convince students who have spent years starting at that linear, pencil-shaped writing process poster that, in fact, the writing process doesn’t work just one way — it is unique to each writer. And the writing process isn’t a one way street, with a pre-determined amount of time spent at each stop along the road. The writing process is messy and circular.
I give students a glue-in for their notebook (left) when we begin a new writing study and ask them to jot down the date each time they stop at one point in the writing process. This gives me something to confer about when I stop to check in on the writer (“Where are you in your process? Where have you been? Where do you think you’re going next?”), but it also provides a visual record for students — here’s how I got from a blank piece of paper to a finished, polished product.
I ask students to reflect on these artifacts in author’s notes at the end of writing study:
- What do you notice about your writing process when you look at your check-in sheet?
- What worked well in your writing process this time?
- How was the process this time different than last time?
- What step or steps do you wish you had spent more time on?
- Where did you spend the most time? Where did you spend the least time? Why do you think that is?
By reading their author’s notes and conferring with students, I begin to get a sense of whether or not the student’s process is evolving in productive ways. What does growth look like in a writer’s process? It could look like a few things:
- A writing process that consciously and intentionally hits every step at some point.
- A process that becomes increasingly flexible and recursive as the writer begins to notice what their writing needs and which step of the writing process will help them get there.
- Multiple processes recorded over time that become increasingly coherent, signaling that a writer is finding a writing rhythm that consistently works for him or her over time.
Track Students’ Skills Growth Over Time
We want to know if students are owning the writing process and developing an individual writing practice over time that will support and sustain them through writing tasks when they leave our class.
But we also want to know if their writing skills are growing. In other words, are they becoming better writers over time?
Here’s how Allison and I have tracked that:
1. Create a Rubric of Rubrics to guide all writing throughout the year.
Simply take the big, broad writing standards for your course and create a rubric. Here’s ours for Reading/Writing Workshop 9:
Under “skill” you see the big standards we needed to meet by the time the course was over. For each unit of study, we bulleted specific strategies and techniques (a.k.a. our mini-lessons!) under each of these large umbrella standards. So, here’s what the “skill” column looked like for our study of free-verse poetry:
Then, when a student turned in a “best draft”, we would give lots of feedback on the writing itself, and then briefly summarize that feedback on the rubric:
While I really hate numbers on a rubric, the numbers here didn’t necessarily computer to a grade. Rather, the numbers enabled us to clearly quantify growth. We would then open up a spreadsheet that we had created for each student, and input the numbers from the rubric. So here’s what Sophie’s spreadsheet looked like after Writing Workshop #1:
And here’s what it looked like at the end of Semester 1. (I’m linking it here as a PDF so you can open it and zoom in if you want!)
This spreadsheet showed me how each skill was progressing over time. Here are some things I notice when I look at this one:
- This student arrived at school in August already able to consistently identify and communicate one central idea in a piece of writing!
- The evidence piece was harder and hit-or-miss depending on the genre in which she was writing.
- She left Semester 1 with room to grow in terms of using mentor texts to guide and inspire her writing. I could see where she was already attempting it with some degree of success, but she needed to continue to work to go deeper with the mentor texts.
The Rubric of Rubrics — customized for each writing unit but consistent in its communication of standards for the course — leave no one in doubt about what we will be learning about writing over the course of the year. Students see the same language time and time and time again, which makes it stickier and more meaningful. It also gives student a consistent language for describing what they can do as writers.
Let’s be honest: the spreadsheet takes time. And we all know that we already spend hours and hours assessing a set of papers. However, it also provides clear, transparent information about where a student presently is, where she needs to go, and how she is growing and evolving over time. Here, growth is quantifiable, not simply based on my general feeling that, “Uh, yeah, I think she’s becoming a stronger writer!”
Assessing growth isn’t any easier or faster than assessing final products on their own. But it is more fair to students, more reflective of the writing process, and helpful to writers in the long term who might need more time to truly master a skill.
How do you assess growth rather than products in your writing classroom? What other strategies or systems can you share? Please leave a comment below, on Twitter (@rebekahodell1) or on our Facebook page!