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Best Assess Student Writing

Evaluating student writing can be one of the most time consuming tasks a teacher can face.  It takes time and mental energy to read 30 (or more!) unique pieces of writing.  Especially when you consider the fact that each student is on their own learning journey and will likely require different feedback to help them grow to the next level in their writing ability.  There are ways to streamline the process and hand some of the assessment off to the student.  Here are some suggestions for methods to best assess student writing at all stages of the process.

Pick a Focus

A piece of writing filled with teacher notes, corrections and proofreading marks can be overwhelming to students.  In my experience, most kids aren't capable of taking in all that feedback at once.  Instead of overloading students, pick one element to focus on.  

If you're working on conventions in whole-class lessons, focus solely on that.  If word choice is the focus, don't worry about punctuation.  Teach your students to edit their own work and how to positively do this for peers as well.  Not only does it cut back your workload, but it empowers students to assess their own work, which will show greater rewards in the long run.

In the example below, I only circled spelling errors I expected the child would need support with.  I wrote the correct spellings down the margin for him to correct in his next draft.  It's important to respond to the needs of the individual student.

Write an End Comment

Rather than mark up the whole page, select two strengths and one area of growth and write this feedback in point form at the end of the work.  As teachers, we know the power of positive words.  By focusing on what a child did well they'll make an effort to repeat those positives in future writing.  Again, providing one area to work on is manageable to students.

One-to-One Conference 

This is by far the most powerful formative assessment tool in any teacher's toolbox.  I admit, it can sometimes be a struggle to fit in one-to-one conferencing.  My favourite time to do this is during silent reading.  Some questions to ask during the conference include:
  • How are you feeling about your writing so far?  What are you most proud of?
  • Are there any points of the criteria you feel like you haven't met yet?
  • What can I do to support you now?

Involve Student Self-Assessment

During the writing process, ask your students to pause and reflect on established criteria (more on that coming) and to ensure they've included, or have plans to include, all that is required.  Most children won't think to do this unless you prompt them to do so.

In my classroom, I have a board that is dedicated to writing.  It houses specific anchor charts for elements we are working on at the time, as well as a year long checklist on the 6+1 Traits of Writing.  As we address each trait in a mini-lesson, new criteria is added to the board.  There are elements applicable to ANY piece of writing.

Students can go up to the board and mentally check off whether they've met each aspect, or not.

 If you want to know more about the 6+1 Traits of Writing, or more about this board in general, head on over to this post.

Have Clearly Defined Criteria

...that you set out from the beginning.

In no world is it fair to assess a child on writing that they weren't aware of the criteria for.  Be open with your expectations and the purpose of the task.  No matter what task you're doing, if you're going to assess it at the end, be sure to share that with the class ahead of time.  This might look like:
  • putting a rubric under the document camera and explaining how you'd meet each aspect
  • providing samples from previous students (with names removed) for each level of ability and having a discussion about the pros and cons of each
  • sharing a checklist of elements you expect students to discuss and then posting it on the whiteboard for their reference
  • establishing journal criteria and then posting it in the front of their notebooks to review each journal writing period

Looking for more writing inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board.

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