Assessing Writing: Integrating Pedagogy & Philosophy

I have many sleepless nights over assessments-particularly in writing.  What’s most effective?  What elicits the best results?  What demonstrates the students’ independent writing abilities?

I have always had a tough time putting a percentile grade to something that is so deeply personal and may have (and typically does) take hours of thought and consideration on the part of the writer.  But I also know, more than once in my life, I’ve had to sit down and demonstrate my ability to write under pressure and time restraints in order to land a job or be accepted into a program.

So it seems to me that when developing a writing program that gives students the tools and confidence to succeed, but also allows teachers to answer to the pressures of a summative grading systems, it’s all about moderation.  I’d much rather create a writing portfolio which shows a growth model of the student’s work, but I also think we need to prep our young learners for the real world where sometimes you need to explain yourself or inform your audience quickly and succinctly.

I read the article, The Ethics of Writing Assessments: Moving from Exclusion to Opportunity” by Norman Allen from NCTE, and I found so many of the points important and great for reflection of our current practices.  He posed some very important questions to consider when looking at your current assessment practices:

  • What are the different methods available for evaluating different kinds of literacy?
  • What is the given assessment attempting to measure?
  • How is the construct of writing being captured through this assessment?

Allen also helped me to think of assessment in a way that I subconsciously was aware of but hadn’t thought of putting in the forefront of our assessment model.  He pointed out the need to look beyond the work and focus on the awareness of the student when reflecting on their own work and their metacognitive awareness of skills that were applied.

It immediately made me think back to the Coach’s Institute I attended at Teacher’s College in the fall.  At PS 128 on the East Side of Manhattan a lot of the bulletin board displays were of students’ work with post-its all over the piece where the student was commenting on their writing.  Now it all made sense!  THESE comments were actually more important for the teachers assessment of what the student had internalized and learned as a writing habit opposed to just regurgitating back a mini lesson at the time they wrote the piece.

I immediately used this information to continue a conversation I’ve been having with our teachers about current assessment practices and how we can enhance them for next year.  It was great to discuss this new mindset of integrating student reflection with portfolio and on demand writing.  It made us all feel more confident that we can continue to build our repertoire of assessments without making everything a testing situation or additional work on our plates.  We know that it is truly entwined in our instruction and should be inclusive of the learner reflecting on their own progress and work.

If anyone has any suggestions of ways that you have built a well rounded assessment model for writing please feel free to share!


SOL Day 14: Back on the Band Wagon

As they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  As I lay on the couch Thursday night I found myself worrying endlessly how I would get the sick child off the chest of the sick mommy (myself) and find enough energy to write for my Slice of Life.

If I just wrote the word ‘tired’ would that count as a post?

I struggled to determine what was top priority.  The dishes still littered the kitchen counters from the attempt of a dinner for my husband when he returned home.  I glanced over at the mound of laundry that was still in front of the machine.

I hated making the decision but I knew it was my job-I needed to prioritize.  I needed to let something go.  I needed to be okay with it.

So with a large exhale I decided the small amount of energy I had left needed to be given to my home and family.  I needed to let my Slice of Life challenge go for the next few days and be okay with the idea that I could still jump back on the band wagon when we were all feeling well again.  I needed to remind myself over and over and over again that although the thought of succeeding and writing all 31 days and potentially winning one of the prizes was nice, my original goal was to write in the same manner that I expect of my students.  I wanted to live the writer’s life and reflect on some of the struggles or successes that come along with this.  So here I am, Monday morning, feeling well, still feeling slightly guilty, but chugging along and getting back to my writing life.

SOL Day 9: Bubbles

The world was a kaleidoscope, all the vibrant greens and blues and whites bleeding together.  My head and heart felt light as I twirled around and around, embracing the way my dress lagged slightly behind and tucked behind my back.  Even though everything seemed to be moving wth super speed I felt every care diminish in the wind.

SOL Day 8:Fearless

At what point do we become fearful?  I wondered this exact question as I sprawled out on the couch-exhausted, reflecting on the several times that day my 18 month old daughter risked her own life without even knowing it.  Attempting to dart down the front brick steps, attempting to dash up the stone walkway in the backyard, scaling the furniture until she was on top of the couch.  I watched her energy and excitement for every new experience with admiration and trepidation at the same time.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a small part of my inner being felt warmed by the vague remembering of how this wonderment felt.

SOL Challenge Day 7: Lifeology

It’s a strange thing how comfortability,

Can lead to unproductivity,

If you live with too much complacency,

And never invite in some difficulty.


Before you know it you’re not living as joyfully,

Perhaps even concealing behind indulgency.


So maybe we all need to join in some curiosity,

And venture into the uncomfortability,

To find our true internal ingenuity.

SOL Day 6: Awakening

The sound was reminiscent of the rustling bag of chips  I became accustomed to throughout the winter, but this filled my soul in a way food could never do.  My fingers became stained with nature’s pallet as they rustled through the bushes and dirt to fish out the remaining leaves that had escaped being bagged in the fall.

I enhaled deeply and tried to imagine a comparison that would do justice to describe the richness of nature’s smell.  Although it wasn’t a terrible winter my body yearned for more warm days ahead, and as I worked I daydreamed about the haven this yard would be for my family and me in the sun filed days ahead.

SOL Challenge Day 5: Blank Space

Now I fully understand how my students must feel.  I’m trying to come up with the best small moment to pull from and I’ve got nothing.

The ironic truth of the matter is my head is swimming with thoughts and concerns.  Do we have everything printed out for the accountant tomorrow? When will I have time to get the house ready for the start to a fresh week? Is Gram going to jump back like she did last year? What will Dad’s results be?

Ugh -but to put a cohesive train of thoughts together to recount a story is just impossible.  It is the weirdest feeling to have a MILLION words swirling in my mind yet to feel nothing but blank space, a dark hole.