Assessing writing

Ruth wrote:

Michele,
I am trying to figure out what to do with my students’ free writes. Up until now I have been doing something that is new to me this year and I think is good. I go through what they have written and I make a list of things that I am impressed with. (e.g. there is/are, oddly enough it seems to take some time to acquire that, he is able to —, wants to —, has, is going to—) with, of course, the requisite smiley face.

I want to give them a grade on these so I can have a more well rounded writing grade in the grade book. What’s your current thinking on grading Free Writes? Do we evaluate them on number of words, accuracy, important structures?

Ruth,

I’ve really changed on this–I used to give grades on increasing the average number of words (took the average of the first three writes, and then kept having kids check the average of the most recent three weekly fast-writes). That’s a good thing to do somewhere in the early stages of writing, to keep kids aware of how much they’re writing. But once they’ve written over 100 words regularly, I think it’s time to stop and start checking other things. (I haven’t actually graded once on word count this year.) I use Scott Benedict’s holistic writing rubric (new and improved!) on most free-writes to give kids feedback on what they’re doing right and usually one thing they need to improve. Then I am trying to actually grade only whichever one each month is the best of the lot. If most of what I underline is in the “proficient” area, then I put down a B, and so on. It’s a bit subjective.

Scott talked with us about grading based on using specific structures that you’ve been practicing. You have to decide what to ask them to do. If you’re checking past tense, you could give them some examples and say that’s what you want to see. If it’s adjective-noun agreement, the same thing would be true. Scott’s holistic form has a place to underline whether the kids are using current vocabulary or a range of current and past vocabulary, but you could set up a rubric for just the one category that you want to check that time. You do need to tell the kids what you’re watching for, of course. I always try to share rubrics in advance. When I forget and the kids don’t do what I wanted, it’s really obvious why they didn’t. Martina Bex has a fast-write form with spaces to make the word count easy and a rubric at the bottom on her teacher page. If you’re teaching Spanish, you can probably use that one right away.

I haven’t used Scott’s idea of target structure rubrics this year…he pointed out that you could also tell them to use colors in their story, or any other vocabulary set.

But now that you’ve asked, I’ll probably be using those more simple, specific writing rubrics. With my hugely mixed classes, I’ve been avoiding them, but I think I could manage if I use the same one for several weeks in a row for any given group.

Thanks for asking! I fear that I have been neither very clear nor coherent, but I’ll think about this and add more later if something comes to me.

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