This is the third part of a three-part blog series that highlights the power of Being a Writer instruction. You can read Part One: Immersion and Drafting here. You can read Part Two: Revision, Proofreading, and Publishing here.
The Being a Writer program provides several assessments to assist teachers in observing growth and in planning next steps for instruction.
These tools assist us when we are perusing the room checking in on kids and giving help where it is needed—what I used to call roving conferences and are referred to as Class Assessments in Being a Writer. I like to think of these as short, targeted, on-the-run conferences. Often, early in a unit, students are just getting warmed up to a genre and need encouragement to give it a go. This isn’t the moment for a full conference as there hasn’t been time yet to examine many mentor texts in the genre or teach the craft of writing in that particular genre. As students are experimenting and exploring in a genre, they need teachers to be available should they get stuck or just need some inspiration to keep giving it a try. I call this “kid whispering.” Many days, I can check in with every student to see if they are having success with the items on the class assessment sheet or if they might need a minute or two of my time. The class assessment sheet below, from the grade 5 Opinion Writing Unit, shows the teacher what they might look for in the student’s writing. The Considerations section at the bottom gives suggestions for helping students if needed.
After students have had a few days to hear mentor texts within a genre and to experiment on their own, full conferring begins. Explicit conference notes show teachers what to look for; questions listed at the bottom of the conference note guide teachers in conducting these conferences.
The units in the grades 3-6 program provide Conference Notes 1–3 to support the teacher when meeting with the writer.
- Conference Note 1 (CN1) provides guiding questions to focus on clarifying the student’s ideas.
- Conference Note 2 (CN2) guides the teacher to ask a student to show a piece of writing and read some of it aloud. While the student is reading, the teacher is listening and considering the reflection questions. After the student reads their piece, the teacher uses the guidance to engage in a conversation with the student.
- Conference Note 3 (CN3) provides guiding questions to support the student as they prepare the second draft for publication, focusing on what the student needs to work on to be ready to publish.
It is not necessary to ask all of the questions on a given conference note. The point of a conference is to find the best next step that will help each writer grow in their writing and not to simply mark off a checklist of skills.
Here is Conference Note 1 from the Opinion Writing Unit. Notice how it provides suggestions for questions to ask throughout the unit:
Watch the following video to see an example of the conference note in action, as well as teacher Lindee Witt’s thinking as she uses it to set a writing goal for the student:
Much research has been done on the power of self-assessment. According to Responsive Classroom, having students reflect on their own learning and work helps them:
- Develop valuable lifelong skills, including the ability to think critically about their own work; know themselves and their learning styles; reflect on their individual strengths and challenges; and measure their progress toward goals.
- Become autonomous learnerswho take responsibility for their learning and become actively engaged in the academic life of the classroom.
- Develop a growth mindset.Regular use of assessment tools promotes what social psychologist Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset—the belief that basic qualities (such as the ability to learn new things) are not fixed, but can be cultivated through personal effort and persistence. Students with a growth mindset want to improve; they seek out learning, stretch themselves, and develop more effective learning strategies (Dweck, 2010).
- Build resilience. Self-assessment helps students understand their learning process and consider how to take on learning challenges. Faced with a difficult task, they think about strategies they’ve used in the past to grapple with new material, increase concentration, or keep going when things get hard. They then decide how to apply those strategies to their current challenge. As a result, they become stronger, more resilient learners. (https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/self-assessment-goal-setting-go-hand-hand/)
A tool for students to use to analyze their published piece is provided at the end of each unit. The Student Self-Assessment encourages students to take a serious look at their final piece considering all they learned in that unit. Take a look at the grade 5 Opinion Writing Unit’s Student Self-Assessment:
Engaging in the self-assessment invites the students to think about what they did well in their writing and what they want to continue to work on. Additionally, the self-assessment provides the opportunity for students to consider what they might ask their partner to help with during pair conferring. Though pair conferring can happen at various stages of the writing process, the pair conferences during the publication phase of the unit provide the opportunity for peers to give each other feedback about how to improve pieces they want to publish.
Individual Writing Assessment
The Individual Writing Assessment Part A (shown below) allows the teacher to give a student a score on daily writing lessons for each week of the unit. This can help teachers give grades as well as show students and parents how the student did each day of the unit.
Part B is a rubric for scoring students on their final published piece. Here is one of the completed samples provided:
These two scores can be added to the results of any skills lessons taught during the unit to arrive at a unit grade. More important than the grade is the teacher reflection on what was taught, the student’s growth from the last unit, and goals for the next unit.
There are many difficulties and struggles when assessing and grading writing. How do we give a child who wrote about his grandmother dying a low grade due to grammar? How do we show children, administrators, and parents that the children are growing in writing? How do we decide what to teach each child next in the three areas of Elements of Genre, Craft, and Language and Conventions? Do we grade on effort or on ability or on growth? A solid set of assessments guide teachers through these questions to arrive at a grade for each child. But more important, the assessments show students, teachers, and other stakeholders what to celebrate and what to focus on next in the student’s writing journey. The Being a Writer assessments give us a clear picture of that journey, helping us guide each and every child through all steps of the writing process.