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Identifying Assessment Practices within the Context of Writing Workshop

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In the context of writing workshop, writers constantly receive feedback from others. This formative assessment gives writers ongoing, in-process suggestions about what to do next and provides teachers with an ongoing understanding of what to teach next to which students. This process of providing feedback as writers form and express their ideas is one of the primary features of writing workshop.

While it is essential for student writers to learn to become responsible for themselves and others in the context of writing workshop, they must also be held accountable to external standards. In a time when so much depends upon outward measures of students’ success, teachers must provide both qualitative and quantitative measures of students’ work. Students, families, educators, and the wider public must have an understanding of what students have achieved as writers.

In this session, the goal is to identify the existing assessment practices already in place within your writing program and to begin to name the role they play. 

Assessment Dig Activity:

Part One: All teachers who assign writing have acquired a great many artifacts that represent your approach to assessment.  Looking carefully at these artifacts  (i.e., rubrics, comments on student papers, bulletin boards with editing advice, student handouts, etc.) can help you think through, perhaps, why you assess writing in the ways you do.

  1. Take some time to “dig” for evidence of how you assess writing.  Work your way through your classroom, concentrating on items like student papers, handouts, bulletin boards, etc. 
  2. Take a day or two to expand the dig by focusing in on the strategies you use to assess—and to teach your students about assessment.  Do you use rubrics?  Peer groups?  Conferences?  Try to take a few notes on the strategies you have used in these couple of days. 

Part Two: Analyzing and Synthesizing

  1. After collecting the artifacts and strategies, divide a piece of paper into three equal columns.  In the first column, simply list the artifacts; in the second column, write the purpose the artifact serves in your overall approach to assessing student writing; in the third column, write about the approach and where you learned about it. 
  2. Share your artifacts, purposes, and backgrounds with the colleagues on your team.

In a 2009 study conducted on teacher's assessment practices in writing, they found a mismatch between beliefs about the teaching of writing and the assessment practices. More specifically, when assessing:

  • teachers mostly pay attention to language form and correctness and yet report there is more to good writing than correctness
  • teachers often use error codes and abbreviations for feedback but recognize students don't often know how to decipher those codes
  • teachers respond mainly to weaknesses in the student writing even though they report it is important to provide feedback on strengths and weaknesses.

3. Conclude by reflecting on and record the insights you have gained regarding the assessment of writing through this process.  What new understandings do you have about your own approach to assessment? Are there particular areas of opportunity and growth?


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These tools were created as part of the Literacy Improvement in Rural Education through Collaboration (LIREC) project funded by the U.S. Department of Education