Writing shows who we are, what we know, how we think, and what we want. Writing is learning about ourselves and putting it out for the world to see. Writing is a brave act.
I have the privilege to teach my students writing. I get to see into their hearts and minds. Their writing shows their passions and their worries, their triumphs and failures.
Now think grades, specifically evaluating writing for a grade. As I celebrate what my students do and look to what they need to do next, the concept of a grade makes me — uncomfortable. What does that do for a writer? How does this grow a writer, a learner, a thinker? On the other hand, we crave feedback. Parents want to know how their child is doing and students want to know how they did. And yes, we need assessment and standards to form this feedback fairly and consistently. The challenge is doing this in a way that develops writers, celebrating their brave act of putting themselves out there for all to see. This requires so much more than a grade.
Assessment should be a living document that student and teacher can take and grow from. Thanks to the work of Lucy Calkins and Teachers College Reading Writing Project’s Units of Study, we now have common core standards-based checklists by grade level. This kid- and teacher- friendly tool sets forth a continuum with clear expectations and next steps, one that can be embraced by an entire school community providing a clear “pathway” to develop writers.
What follows is work of a student who is a passionate writer, writes on her own all the time. She is an English language learner and has learning disabilities that show up in her writing.
One day my mom told me lets go to the mall okay so I told my mom can I bring phone she said no but mom I thought you said I could use it well I change my mind mom said I don’t want to listen to her so I hide it in my sister bag I told her to not tell mom why she said because mom doesn’t want me to bring it well she said fine I was so happy so I could show off my phone so we went to the mall when we went to Hollister it was so.Dark so I told my sister to give me it please so she give it to me I was so happy everyone told me I like your phone I said.Thanks a lot of strangers said I love it I said …thanks so I was using it my mom looked at me she was like what was that nothing she told me give me your hands I left it right there I was looking to find my phone but it was all dark so I felt like crying I said to my mind stop why did I I had to bring it just to show off UGGG I stomp my I feet NO NO well I learned so much to never show off and always say the truth to your mom even the worst ones.
Knowing this writer and her passion for writing, it is so important to approach her acknowledging all she has done well. Using the TCRWP narrative checklist we can name her strengths. She’s told a story that had tension and a lesson learned. She elaborated with her thoughts, feelings, dialogue and action. She provided some craft elements, specifically sensory details — Hollister so Dark — that were a crucial to her story. The criteria of craft, elaboration, and story are all elements this student wrote toward using the checklist. But it is also so important not to stop there. A crucial part of writing is writing so others can understand your thoughts. Using the checklist, we look to aspects she has not met such as structure and language conventions. Now, she has concrete feedback and clear next steps for her work. She knows where she sits on the continuum. She knows where she needs to work. We have clear goals to work toward. It is tangible, visible — so much more than a grade.