My #OLW stood me in great steed this weekend at #ILA18.
So much to see . . .
So much to do . . .
So much to learn . . .
But What’s the Point?
Back in the Dark Ages,
In the late 2oth Century!
I remember the value placed on
Whole-Part-Whole in education.
The goal was always LEARNING!
The intent was for ALL to be LEARNING!
After #ILA18 I feel that many empowered teachers have been set free in the universe to “change the world” and continue learning. We haven’t learned it all. There is a real need to continue to grow and build our knowledge base.
And that brings me to one of my Sunday sessions. We were learning about the Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts (4th edition) under the leadership of Diane Lapp and Douglas Fisher. It has 18 chapters. Chapters that could be used in schools for professional development.
18 Must Reads.
18 Invitational Conversations.
Exploring the tight connections between research and best supported practice that promotes literacy for every learner.
This was not a book available to purchase in the Exhibit Hall.
But could it? Dare it be a lens to consider best practices? A lens to consider What? How? or even WHY we do what we do in instruction?
In its entirety this is one side of a handout from a round table at that session . . .
8 Essential Components of Comprehensive Language Arts Instruction.
Any surprises for you?
As I reviewed the list, I found it quite interesting that this list of components included nine, or exactly half of the chapters. Curiosity, of course, won out. What on earth could the other nine chapters be about if this is “the list of components for instruction” and if THIS is the book for teachers to study.
So I was off researching.
In a classroom, I would have been in major trouble because I was on my computer and might have appeared to NOT be on task. But I was in search of more information. What is the other half of this book about? This book we should study? This book we should use? This 499 page book!
This post is titled “Why?” not to just allow me to pose my own questions but also to perhaps begin to develop some of my own theories. Why these eight components? Why do two of the eight (25%) not have chapter resources supporting them?
What are the “Whys?” that are circling in your brain?
What format will the chapter take?
Will there be recommendations of “amounts of time” per component?
Will there be “recommendations of additional resources”?
Were any teachers involved in updating this handbook?
Is there any support for how to put these 8 components into action?
Or how to “know” when the components are all aligned?
Will this text continue to treat each component as a separate silo? What about the reciprocity of reading and writing? How will we grow readers and writers?
Why this text now?
What’s so compelling about this text, right now, that this book should be a part of a district’s professional development?
It was a pleasure to hear much rich conversation around real reading and writing at #ILA18. Real, rich, robust reading that is NOT about single standard instruction or assessment. It’s actually quite refreshing to go back to the “Whole” of language arts instruction in reading, writing, speaking and listening that moves stedents to take action in the real world.
Doing school must end. It’s time to capitalize on any instruction that promotes high learning and engagement that challenges students without mind-numbing page after page of annotation, Cornell notes, and skills-based minute particles that can easily be googled. Why do adults think these decisions can be made without broader input from our communities?
If the whole is our entire language arts program
and the part is the eight components,
what “WHY?s” will you need answered before you can implement these 8 components?
Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.
In kindergarten I read books about Dick, Jane, Sally, Puff, and Spot. They lived in a town with houses, sidewalks, and fenced yards. They seemed to have fun and play a lot. The girls and Mother always wore dresses and the older characters had the longer dresses. As for the guys, the Dad always wore long pants and the boys wore shorts and long sleeve shirts or sweaters. It wasn’t my neighborhood (a farm) or the way we dressed (church clothes, school clothes, play clothes). I didn’t know if the stories were real or pretend.
I was reading before I went to kindergarten so I’m not sure of the impact of the environment depicted in Dick and Jane books. I already loved books. And I dearly loved reading. School was fun, for the most part. But some of it was sheer drudgery. The silly workbooks, the round-robin reading, and reading one story a week was so . . .
excruciatingly . . .
As well as dry, dull and desperately boring. We stopped all the time to answer questions about our reading. The pacing was synonymous with a turtle and at many times, so darned tedious. But I loved books. And I loved reading. I loved reading for the windows into other worlds . . . enchanted, far away worlds! I didn’t see myself, my family or my neighbors in any of the stories I read.
But what if I hadn’t loved reading?
A groundswell exists for an elementary curriculum that includes both mirrors and windows for ALL our students.
“All students deserve a curriculum which mirrors their own experience back to them, upon occasion — thus validating it in the public world of the school.” (Source)
Are ALL of our students validated?
Last week at the #TCRWP June 2018 Writing Institute I was reading Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time to a group of third grade teachers. We were analyzing the text for “techniques” of narrative text and this book by James Howe had many. It was a new book for many of the teachers in the group, but the part that stuck with me were the brilliant words from our leader Simone Fraser:
“Read Alouds in our classrooms need to be more inclusive. It is important that ALL students are represented in our Read Alouds. We need to make sure that we read from at least ALL the bands of text that students are reading.” Simone Fraser
Broadening the definition of inclusivity.
This sounds so much like ‘common sense’, but are teachers doing this?
First, qualitatively. I am not saying you would start at Level H and read through to Level O (remembering that levels are only Teacher Tools), but do you purposefully read texts from bands that represent the students seated on the floor in front of you and that allow the students to ‘see themselves reading texts’ in your classroom?
And then a second issue, do the students actually see themselves, their neighborhoods and their cultures in the books in your classrooms? What of neighborhoods that are so homogeneous that they need to see even more diverse communities? How do you build libraries that expand the world?
As teachers decompress, plan and re-plan for those first days of school next year, I would challenge each and every one to consider how those first days of school (August or September) could be more inclusive.
What if the opening community-building Read Alouds were mirrors of the reading students did in previous years?
What if the opening community-building Read Alouds included one from each band of text – matching the students in front of the teacher?
What if the opening community-building Read Alouds were mirrors of the students and their cultures?
What if the opening community-building Read Alouds were fun, inspirational and then lovingly placed in a basket labeled “Our Favorite Books to Re-Read”?
To feel welcomed.
To feel accepted.
To revisit old friends.
To build community.
To demonstrate the value of re-reading!
To remember the excitement of that “first read”!
How do you welcome EVERY child to your reading community?
How could Read Alouds, that correspond to your students’ previous reading, build empathy and respect as well as empower and engage your students?
How could those beginning of the year Read Alouds strengthen and build upon student successes, positive attitudes and reading habits?
How are you including both mirrors and windows in your classroom book collection?
Isn’t this the “Engagement, Excellence and Equity that should be quaranteed for ALL students?
And as you are planning, remember these words from Lin Manuel’s tweet . . .
“You’re gonna make mistakes.
You’re gonna fail.
You’re gonna get back up.
You’re gonna break hearts.
You’re gonna change minds.
You’re gonna make noise.
You’re gonna make music.
You’re gonna be late, let’s GO” @
Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.
Thank you #TWTBlog Authors for this series last week, “Assessment Strengthens Writers”. Last night’s Twitter Chat was simply amazing and if you weren’t there, you can check out the storified version here.
The questions that vaulted us into the twittersphere were:
But this morning, I’m stuck on “How do I use assessment to strengthen my own writing?”
And every one of those questions MATTER!
- What assessment tools and strategies do I use?
- How do I deep track of my progress on assessments?
- How do I use on-demand writing to inform my progress?
- How do I collaborate with colleagues on my assessments?
- How do I communicate my growth to myself?
- How do I see my growth in writing over time?
- Where does self-assessment fit into the life of a writing teacher?
Much has been written about the need for writing teachers to write. October 20 was #WhyIWrite.
What has been written about the need for writing teachers to self-assess and to work collaboratively with others in order to grow their own skills? Today this space is dedicated to thinking about how best to continue to “Walk the Talk” and to grow and strengthen my own writing.
If one of my claims is that . . .”My writing improves as my volume of writing grows.”
How will I measure that?
How DO I measure that?
I have some work to do in order to answer these questions.
How will you “Strengthen Your Writing”?
Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
Iowa ASCD 15 – An opportunity to have both an Open mind and an Open mouth to process new learnings!
What do “grades” or “percentages” mean when looking at achievement?
Yesterday, Ken O’Conner (@kenoc7) challenged 282 attendees at #IowaASCD15 to consider what grades and marks mean in the education world. “Grades” have two basic meanings in the US and “marks”, similarly, has two different meanings in Canada. The basic definitions go something like this:
Mark – “the number or letter “score” given to any student test or performance”
Grade – “the number or letter reported at the end of a period of time as a summary statement of student performance”
Marks and grades often seem to only be an education issue. What if we considered the learning data from a real life scenario?
So, in real life, what if our end goal is to go skydiving?
What does it take to pack a parachute correctly?
Ken O’Conner began the day with this set of data.
What does the data tell you about each student?
Student A? What’s the trend? Are you willing to put your life via parachute on the line?
Student B? What’s the trend? Are you willing to put your life via parachute on the line? Do you have the urge to “see the data” for the 8th try?
Student C? What’s the trend? Are you willing to put your life via parachute on the line?
Do the “marks” give you enough information?
Which would you choose?
Student A, B, or C?
Or did you decide to NOT jump out of a perfectly good airplane at this point?
What if “mastery” was 60%? That’s a “passing grade” or a “D” in most schools? Is that “good enough” for parachute packing? Which students are considered to have mastered packing a parachute? Again, how comfortable are you risking your life?
Interested in more information? Go to Ken’s website here!
Would “averaging” the percentages for a “grade” have made you more “comfortable about the most proficient parachute-packing student”? (This is similar to “averaging” homework grades when we compare first learning with last learning.)
Another great resource is the book we received at the conference, A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades. It will spark great conversations for teachers, students, parents, and communities! How do you grade for LEARNING?
I was back in some classrooms this week and I was continuing to think about generative writing, in particular with younger students. See this earlier post for the nuts and bolts about generative writing. I continue to believe that it’s a powerful strategy not only for writing but also for formative assessment.
I saw students working with tubs of objects based on the vowel sounds of the words. The tubs looked like these.
These first graders were using the tubs to name the objects, write the words and / or use the words in sentences as part of a focus on Word Work during Daily 5 rotations. Students could choose the vowel sounds tub that they wanted to use. Some students were writing words, others were writing sentences, and still others were filling a page with sentences that clearly demonstrated their understanding of the items in the tubs.
How did I know the students were learning?
At first glance it seemed that students were working on many different levels of writing. How could I capture that information? My mind was buzzing. What did I see in front of me? How could I capture that information and make it usable as well as “teacher friendly” so that it could be one piece of formative assessment that was used to guide future instruction?
What if I created “messy sheets” to “sort the work that students were doing? See Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan’s blog (@ClareandTammy), “Organizing and Displaying Assessment Data so We can Use It” for an explanation of messy sheets (or check out their book here).
Here are my drafts of two types of messy sheets (student names would surround the ovals – initials are shown for the first two ovals on the left): one for volume of writing and one for quality of writing. (Do note that I did not have a complete set of classroom data and I was operating on the basis of what I saw students doing at that point in time.)
What do I know about a writer who only uses the “word” as the last word in a sentence (thinking back to the previous post about generative writing)? Which “Messy Sheet” helps me better understand these writers? Is it an either / or? Do I have to choose one? My questions continue on and on.
Take a deep breath.
Remember my “OLW15” (“One Little Word”).
Can my questions guide my continued study of the student writing? If yes, then I might also consider adding ovals or even a third “Messy Sheet” for conventions. From this writing sample, I could gather data about the “transfer” of learning from one writing activity to another. Which students consistently have capital letters at the beginning of their sentences? Which students consistently have end punctuation? (I don’t need to give students a prompt. I can use this “data” to add to my picture of each student as a writer!)
How could a teacher use the information from the “Messy Sheets” to guide instruction?
In order to determine the need for additional small group or whole class explicit instruction, I could develop instructional groupings! Here are three examples:
◦Use generative writing in small groups to work on missing skills in writing for the students.
◦Tape record instructions of generative writing for students to complete in small group with a leader in charge of the recording. (interactive white board with picture and recording or ipad)
◦Revise and expand generative writing in a mini-lesson during Writer’s Workshop. (ie. Work with revising sentences in writing pieces to further develop sentence fluency and/or to show word meaning when deepening word understandings)
Additional Word Work:
Let’s consider the “long a” tub that is open in this picture. It contains the following miniature items: snake, scale, whale, bacon, baby and a cage. Students can practice naming each of the items and can record those words on paper because they are listed on the under side of the cover. Additional activities that involve sorting could be combining items from the long a and short a tubs and sorting them into columns based on the vowel sound, the location of the vowel sound, or even the number of syllables in the words (or even the spelling patterns that are used for that particular vowel sound – How many follow the cvce pattern?).
How might you use generative writing in the primary grades or to teach the writer?
Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. Thanks to Stacey, Anna, Beth, Tara, Dana and Betsy for creating a place for us to share our work.
Last week I was working with a group of pre-service teachers like I do every semester. I lingered on the writing examples, techniques and goals in the genres, mentor texts, and specifically generative writing. As I presented to this group, I literally wondered “aloud” why I had never written about generative writing. I believe that the power of generative writing lies in its ability to replace tired, ineffective DOL practice with meaningful, relevant writing that can also be used as formative assessment tasks.
So what did the pre-service teachers do?
They wrote a sentence where “writing” was the first word in a sentence with at least 10 words. And then they wrote a sentence where “writing” was the last word in a sentence with at least 10 words. Finally they wrote a sentence with “writing” as the fourth word in a sentence where they could choose the length (but it had to have a minimum of five words so “writing” was not the last word).
And then we had a conversation/discussion with a few focused questions:
- Which sentence was the hardest to write?
- What made it hard?
- What strategies did you use to help complete the task?
The majority said that the sentence with “writing at the end” posed the most challenge because it was the complete opposite of the first sentence. Some said that the first two were basically easy because it was about “flipping” the words in the sentences and that the third use of “writing” as the fourth word was harder because “you had to think about what could go before it”.
Strategies that they used were counting words on their fingers, oral rehearsal, drafting and scratching out, drafting and then counting, and checking with a partner. This was meant to be an introduction, that in a classroom would include oral practice, study of mentor texts, and examples of vocabulary words used in various positions in real published work.
What is Generative Writing?
Generative Writing is a term used to describe instructional strategies that provide students with parameters for their writing. These factors define boundaries for writing at the sentence level.
Providing a word to be used
Defining the word’s position in the sentence
Specifying the number of words in a sentence
Limiting the number of words in a sentence
The model described above comes from Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s Scaffolded Writing Instruction: Teaching with a Gradual-Release Framework.
What are the effects of generative writing?
- Build sentence fluency
- Build word choice
- Deepen understanding of content
- Deepen understanding of vocabulary
- Use writing as a tool for learning
- Write in a variety of genres
I think that sentence fluency, word choice and writing in a variety of genres are already covered in many writing workshops at a variety of grades. However, I believe that using generative writing in content areas to deepen understanding of content, vocabulary and even as a tool for learning and assessment are previously untapped areas of formative assessment that could be guiding higher-quality targeted core instruction for ALL students.
So how would I use generative writing as a Formative Assessment?
I would use this with departmentalized content-area teachers who have all of their own content standards as well as a responsibility for reading and writing ELA standards. Asking a science class to use “photosynthesis” as the first word in a sentence will probably result in a definition. Here is an example of how the work may be sorted as well as the plan for using a second generative writing after some re-teaching.
How did I plan for the generative writing at the top of the page?
I am a firm believer that I must “practice what I preach” and complete writing tasks in order to increase my own understanding of writing. So of course I actually wrote some sentences. Here are some examples of sentences that I generated during the planning phase for my work.
Writing is one of my favorite ways to express ideas because my artistic and musical talents are limited. There are some days that I feel like the most important part of the day is when I have time for writing. Some may argue writing is just one of many skills that students need to develop, but I would suggest that totally divorcing reading and writing is an exercise in futility. “Show don’t tell” and “Teach the writer not the writing” are my two most favorite Lucy Calkins’s quotes about writing. What are your favorite quotes that you use to encourage writing?
The tasks I assigned myself:
- Use “writing” as first word in a sentence with at least 10 words.
- Use writing as the last word in a sentence with at least 10 words.
- Use writing as the fourth word in a sentence as well as somewhere else in a compound/complex sentence.
- Use writing as the last word in a sentence using quoted text.
- Use writing as the last word in a question.
- Develop a cohesive paragraph during this generative writing exercise.
I believe I met all 6 of my tasks; what do you think?
How might you use generative writing?
Tuesday is the day to share a “Slice of Life” with Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here.
Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton have introduced us to Know and Wonder Charts in their magnificent text, What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Making Meaning.
There is a Twitter Chat, tonight, April 22, 2014 from 8:30 – 9:30 EST (#WRRDchat) where many of these ideas including “implementation” will be discussed. Our chat leaders include: Allison Jackson (@azajacks), Julieanne Harmatz (@jarhartz) and Ryan Scala (@rscalateach). Additional resources include these previous posts: “The Process of Meaning Making,” “Beyond CCSS: Know and Wonder Charts” (July 2013), and our group facebook page where last year’s chats are archived.
What have I learned since last summer?
Students must do the work!
Teachers cannot wait until their comprehension instruction is perfect. Students need to be “doing” the work of constructing meaning. There is a huge difference between students who “don’t understand YET” and students who don’t know what they are doing.
Here is some of our work from third grade last month. Our book was Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T Washington.
Here is page 2 – the first text:
After reading this page, students discussed with a partner both what they knew and what they were still wondering about. So the picture below is what the first whole-class “Know / Wonder” chart looked like. A lot of conversation centered around the word “longed” which JD so aptly told us “did not mean long like 2 feet long.” That discussion led to the inference (with evidence) that Booker “wanted to read.”
As we read on through page 3 we were thinking about:
- Were any of our questions answered?
- Were any patterns beginning to emerge?
Our question of “Why is Booker NOT reading?” was answered on this page.
Now our chart began to get messy as we used it to demonstrate how we were “making meaning” as our first question was answered with a bit of color coding for our question in the “Wonder” and our answer in the “Know.”
One of our goals was to see how the character developed over time in this text. How did the author reveal information about Booker? As students worked with partners, they crafted their own post – it descriptions (rewritten here – 😦 poor photography skills). How could these descriptions show a progression of “drafting understanding” that could be used to dig deeper into the author’s words?
These first two were pretty similar and were easy for the students to think about as “evidence-based” descriptions with picture two adding the inference “be a reader.” Picture 3, below, demonstrated students who continued on through the text in search of “MORE” ideas and evidence. They wanted to know “WHY” reading was so important to Booker and they did not stop until they had drafted their theory.
Because we have also worked with formative assessment and checklists, we tried another view of the same post-its in a chart with labels and descriptors so students could begin to “self-assess” their own work. This was the FIRST draft – an additional step was later added between the “two stars” and “three stars.”
After discussion, students could perform some self – assessment to determine where they were at in their understanding. This self-assessment allowed most students to answer the question: “What would they need to do to ‘move the level of understanding in their post-it response?'”
But, we had to take a deep breath and stop and rethink here. The ultimate goal is NOT to get the “top star” rating. We wanted to include some self-assessment so students could focus on the learning targets, but we wanted to be crystal clear in our ultimate goal. This sent us back into the book to re-read to check what the text REALLY said instead of what we “thought” it said!
The focus for instruction moved to “patterns.” Students begin to look for “patterns.” This is the stage where the students were “reading forward and thinking backward” as they” tracked patterns to see how the patterns were connecting developing, or changing.” The “What we Know” changed to “ALL” about the pattern – What is the pattern? How is the pattern changing? and the “Wonders” shifted to – Why? What could the author be showing us?
This was hard. It was tempting to set the students up with more modeling or even more scaffolding. However, will more “teacher work” REALLY increase the likelihood of “independence” for the students as they construct “meaning making?”
What do you think? How do you help students draft their understandings? And how do you stay focused on the real goal?
How can we measure writing so students, parents, the community, and the teachers know that students are improving?
If this is our definition of assessment, we have many options for measurement.
If I am a student, I can use rubrics, checklists, my personal goals and feedback from peers, teachers, and those I communicate with through blogging, etc. to talk about what qualities are present in my writing now that were not there earlier in the year. This could be in the form of a summative reflection that is posted with two or three papers/writings that I believe demonstrate my growth and that I would have annotated with those specific qualities for a quarter or semester or across the entire year.
But what keeps a student writing on a daily basis? How does a student know that this week’s writing piece is better than the last piece? Or that this piece really was the perfect match for the audience and purpose? I believe that students need feedback to not only be able to “improve” their writing but also to have the language to explain what they are doing to others. Excitement about a topic can carry a student for several days, but at some point the enthusiasm may wane as the task of rewriting or revising becomes laborious.
John Hattie believes that feedback needs to include these factors:
“• focus on the learning intention of the task
• occur as the students are doing the learning
• provide information on how and why the student understands and misunderstands
• provides strategies to help the student to improve
• assist the student to understand the goals of the learning” Source
So a learner would need to know the task/goal, be able to explain what he or she is learning and have some strategies that enhance his/her understanding of the work. The checklists in the new Units of Study in Writing, from Lucy Calkins and the many, many talented folks at Teachers College Reading and Writing, would help meet those criteria especially if the students are involved in daily writing workshops that allow them to continually stretch and grow and there is a safety net provided by the teacher and peers.
Is this the only writing format that meets these criteria? No, other rubrics such as 6 Traits + 1 within a writing workshop model could also set up this learning and feedback environment for students. These environments would include clear writing targets, models and strategies for students to continually plan, reflect and self-assess. When working well, these classrooms are better than well-oiled machines; when not working well students might be saying, “I don’t know what to write.” or “What do YOU want me to write?”
How does that all fit in a writing workshop? Very, very carefully as a teacher combines both student-led and teacher-led activities to increase student independence! At the end of the mini-lesson, the teacher may ask the students to go ahead and begin an example of the task/work at hand before they even leave that comfort of the writing circle. A few students may stay for a quick conference and/or a more specific “check-in” with the teacher. A student may have put a post it up on a strategy chart to mark the specific work that is his/her goal for today that will improve the narrative (adding action, adding dialogue, or adding thoughts). The teacher will circulate and may have a “mid-workshop” interruption where student work that is “on target” is quickly celebrated and shared. Students may quickly meet with writing partners to see if they are “still on course to meet their goals.”
This is an example of “knowing specifically what a student needs to do” to meet the learning target in kindergarten – first grade writing.
The student will have a “collection” of writings in a folder that will be evidence of learning.
What will the parents and community members see? They will see examples of early writing in a unit and later writing. They will see “student revision” in work and evidence of student thinking. Parents and community members will not see traditional “percentages” for grades. They will see comments that delineate what the student CAN do. The students will be able to tell their families what they have been working on and how that has helped them be more powerful writers.
And the teachers . . . How will they know that “students are improving”? Teachers may have to take a step back because the “day to day work” may cloud their view when they think of overall growth for all students. But student growth, when students are writing every day in writing workship for 45 minutes to an hour, can be seen after three weeks (Lucy Calkins, June 2013 TCRWP Writing Institute). Will it be easy? Heck, no! But will easy provide results that will help your students meet the demands of opinion, informational and narrative writing?
What are you waiting for? February is the month to “Fire Up” student writing in your classroom. Your students will love writing with you!
What questions do you have? What do you need in order to get started?
How are YOUR students doing in writing? How do you know?
A few years ago the National Writing Project commissioned a public opinion survey entitled “The 2007 Survey on Teaching Writing.” The results are reported here and one quote is also included directly below.
“Americans believe that good writing skills are more important than ever, but they fear that our schools and our children are falling behind. Two-thirds of the public would like to see more resources invested in helping teachers teach writing. And 74 percent think writing should be taught in all subjects and at all grade levels.”
The good news is that the Common Core State Standards do include writing standards that cover ALL subjects and ALL grade levels. Those College and Career Ready Writing Anchor standards are:
Text Types and Purposes
- CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
- CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.
Production and Distribution of Writing
- CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
- CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge
- CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
- CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
- CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Range of Writing
- CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Last year #TeacherWeek reported that “80% of the U.S. population surveyed think that writing well is more important than 20 yrs ago; 75% think schools should put more emphasis on writing.” Both of these percentages continue to climb steadily upward.
Do you know the answers to these questions?
- Are ALL teachers teaching writing in their content areas?
- Do teachers use the same common language when teaching writing?
- Do students know what the writing learning targets are?
- Do parents and community members know what the student writing learning targets are?
- Are the same rubrics used across multiple content areas and multiple grades?
- Do students write for a variety of purposes, across content areas, throughout the day?
- Are students making progress in meeting the writing anchor standards?
Who have you shared those answers with?
What would your community say about the progress that the students in your school are making in writing? How would they know?
How do you know that your students are effective communicators?
Do you measure communication? Do you use writing assessments for that purpose? If so, what are those writing assessments? How do you know that your students have made growth in writing?
Those questions and their answers have been responsible for district-wide writing assessments for over ten years in a local district. Currently, narrative writing at third, and persuasive letters at eighth and tenth grade are assessed with a Six Traits rubric.
The work in this district = 900+ student papers that are all read by at least two scorers: teachers, administrators, university students, community members, retired teachers, and AEA staff. Over three days, approximately 100 scorers (30-35 each day) are greeted by the superintendent of schools for a welcome that includes history, data and purpose for the assessment. Professional development includes increasing knowledge of effective writing instruction, the writing process and the Six Traits before the group begins to look at the rubric and anchor papers. Each day the scorers must calibrate because that unique group has never been convened before. “What qualities of the rubric did the NWREL scorers see?” dominates the conversations. Confidence in the use of the rubric and identifying the traits increases with practice and even a “happy dance” may occur as participants match the NWREL anchor scores. And then (drum roll, please) the scoring begins . . .
The goal: adjacent scores. What does that mean? If Joe scores a trait a 3 and Suzie scores a 4, that is adjacent. If that “adjacency” has occurred for all six traits, the scoring for that paper is over. But if Joe scores a 3 and Suzie scores a 5, the paper will be reread by a third reader for that trait (or traits). If the third reader does not agree exactly with Joe’s 3 or Suzie’s 5, and believes that trait is a 4, the three readers will conference with the paper and the rubric and discuss their thinking. Imagine, teachers and others, spending time talking about student writing because students are counting on feedback about their writing!
Wow! Annual scoring of student writing at three grades. Sound easy?
The support staff prep and post work for scoring writing from three grades of students is phenomenal. The “behind the scenes” orchestration involves year round work! Winter scoring “work” begins in September when the packets with prompts, draft writing paper, and final copy writing paper are assembled for each classroom at grades 3, 8, and 10. Maintaining the anonymity of students and teachers involves the use of codes. Recruiting scorers begins. Later, students write and teachers return papers to central office where packets of five papers are assembled with a quick scan of every page of student writing to remove any possible student identification. These packets are readied for the scorers. Reminders to scorers about plans in the face of adverse winter weather, ordering food and snacks for scoring days, and packing up all the materials are just a few of the tasks that precede the scoring.
During scoring days, basic work schedules for key support staff members are put on hold. Checking scorer registration, last minute substitutes, phone calls to absent scorers are just a few of the early morning tasks after the materials for the day are set out. Checking the details for the next day also encompass some of the morning. With luck, there is some office time before lunch. But the entire afternoon is dedicated to routing scoring packets to readers, collecting and matching score sheets, recording final scores, noting 3rd reader or conference needs and meeting the needs of scorers. Busy, busy days!
But the work is not yet done! After the scoring days, data entry (six scores for every student paper) becomes the next task. Scores are compiled for district, building, grade level (dept.) and teacher totals. Papers are returned to teachers for February parent-teacher conferences. Notes are made about the work and filed in preparation for the next round. And then the process of scheduling for the next year begins.
I work with a small portion of this work, co-facilitator for the scoring days. I am always amazed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the scorers who are now on the main stage. They are conscientious about “getting the work done right” and are also eager to learn. Classroom teachers and administrators often find a gem to add to their instructional repertoire. Many first-time scorers are anxious about this responsibility. Other scorers have literally scored for at least ten years. It might be easy for them to become blase about their task, but they remain committed to finding a common language to describe the qualities of writing that they see!
Congratulations on a scoring job well done!
Good luck with continued instruction!
Will there be changes in the future? Sure! With implementation of the Iowa Core, assessments will inevitably change. Will SBAC be used to assess writing? Will there be a different writing assessment? A planful decision will be made as more information becomes available!
Are you assessing writing? Do you have experience with district-wide writing conversations? What is/ was your role? I would love to hear about your experiences!