Saturday, July 14, 2012

Assessment in the Writer's Workshop and a Freebie!

Do you have a great Writer's Workshop going (or planned) but are not sure how to go about assessing your students? One of my readers suggested I post about this very topic, so here goes! I am a firm believer in writing and writing every day. My students write every day about self-selected topics and sometimes to prompts that I give them. They spend a lot of time writing, and while I recognize how important this is, it is sometimes difficult for all of their hard work to be reflected in their Language grade...I feel like since my students are spending so much time writing, they should get credit for their hard work (or the other way around, if necessary). The problem is, how do you GRADE writing?! We've all heard horror stories about little writers' hopes being dashed to shreds due to a sea of red marks on their papers. Maybe we've even been the victims of such grading. So, here's the way I do it. I've based my system off of Aimee Buckner's Notebook Know-How. This is a fabulous book that you just have to read! She is a real teacher who's written about real lessons in her classroom. Very practical and easy to use.

I've chosen to grade the Writer's Notebook. I do this using a rubric about twice during a nine-week period. It may seem overwhelming, but if you conference with your students often, you already are very familiar with what is in their notebook, so it isn't as time-consuming as you might think at first.

I like this method because it gives me an overall evaluation of the writer and their work as a whole, rather than ONLY grading one or two pieces of writing. (I may still grade a piece or two of writing during the nine weeks, especially to get them ready for our open-ended responses to state testing).

I evaluate 5 categories: Flexibility/Fluency, Thoughtfulness, Frequency, Grammar/Usage, and Writing Behavior.

  • Flexibility/Fluency: I expect students to write in a variety of genres and topics. I also expect them to at least try some of the strategies they're learning in mini-lessons and complete most of their entries. This takes lots of modeling!  Most of us may have one or two strengths as writers, but its important for our writers to be flexible and fluent, especially at this young age.  I watch out for if they are only writing about a certain topic or in one genre, or if they start a new piece every day without returning to finish it. 
  • Thoughtfulness: This one can be tough, but its important for students to be thoughtful writers. Are their entries superficial, only scratching the surface of a topic? Or are they deep with well-developed topics? Is there evidence that the writer has spent time thinking and planning through their piece or did he or she simply jot something down to be finished in a hurry? This category is perhaps the most subjective, but I use it because I want my students to continually dig deeper as writers. 
  • Frequency: I expect my students to write about a page per day. Some days there will be less and some more, but it will usually equal to at least a page per day. This amount helps promote their writing fluency. If a student has only written a few lines each day there is a definite red flag! Is there trouble with letter formation or spelling, slowing the student down? Does the student have trouble generating topics to write about? 
  • Grammar/Usage: This is one of those sticky points among some teachers, but I believe that using correct grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling is extremely important! (Be many times do you shake your head and mentally correct something you read on the Internet? I know I do :) I expect students to use what they have learned in their own writing. For example, if we've learned that an interrogative sentence ends with a question mark, I expect that students put question marks at the end of interrogative sentences in their writing. They must spell word wall words and spelling words correctly. If they've learned that the letter I is always capitalized, then it should be written that way. In short, I expect them to put into practice the mechanics of writing they've learned up to that particular point. 
  • Writing Behavior: This is more of a daily observation by the teacher. Is the student using time wisely by getting started right away and writing/working the whole time? Does he or she follow classroom procedures so that others aren't disturbed while writing? This doesn't mean that as soon as we begin, students put pencil to paper and don't stop until I ring the bell or call "time." I tell my students that it is okay to stop and think, to go back and reread other entries, or notes from mini-lessons. They know they may get a dictionary or thesaurus or look up a word on-line if they need to. But as a teacher, I can tell when they are doing those things for real and when they're displaying avoidance behaviors.  
So, there you have it! If you read this entire post, kudos to you! Sorry it was so long, but I had a lot to say on this topic. Now, grab your freebie below! I made a black a white version for making copies and some color versions if you want to print those. I was thinking about printing a different color for each grading period onto sticker paper and sticking them into the notebook on the back of the last entry up to that point. That way I have a record the student and I can easily refer to when conferencing and determining what they need to work on. 

I basically rate each category with a 4, 3, 2, or 1 then add up the total points and multiply by 5. The product is the student's grade.

Update: I removed the embedded doc because every time my page loaded it went down to the doc instead of staying on the top of the page. You can access it here:  Writer's Notebook Evaluation

How about you? Do you have a great way to assess notebooks or single pieces of writing? I'd love to hear how you handle assessment in your writing block.


  1. I love 4-blocks. Thank you for sharing these--I think writing is so important in the classroom!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I love the rubric, it's so simple for students of all ages to understand (after explanation), and makes marking daily writing simpler and meaningful for the students and for our report writing.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing the rubric! It's exactly what I needed. I think twice a quarter sounds manageable.

  4. Thank you! I think I'm constantly considering how to give better feedback and how to teach the students how to reflect, too. I'm glad I found your blog. I'm your newest follower. Stop by my blog if you get a chance.

    Grade Three is the Place for Me

  5. You all are most welcome! Thanks so much for your positive feedback :)

    Janis, thanks for following me. You're blog is my next stop!


  6. I am so excited to find your blog! A fellow Four Blocker! :) I love the Four Block method and have found it to work the best for me of any method. I am following you now!
    Conversations in Literacy

  7. Thank you for sharing, you are so thoughtful! I've nominated you for an award, come by to claim it!

    Teaching Special Kids



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