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!

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