The amount of writing assessment data we collect for a group of students can easily become unwieldy. If you are a writing teacher, it is at this point where you are probably envisioning yourself with a stack of student writing in front of you. And next to that stack of student writing are the multiple-page scoring rubrics that you have marked carefully to evaluate each student’s level of proficiency in the areas of structure, development and language conventions.
We spend many hours inching through each of our student’s writing pieces as we take note of their strengths as well as possible areas for growth. Without a doubt, having so much rich information will help you guide the growing writers in your care and that is empowering. However, if you are like me, this feeling of empowerment is followed by a little bit of worry as I find myself wondering….How am I ever going to keep track of all of this once I start teaching? Will I remember all of this valuable information when I am trying my best to manage the bustle of the classroom, or when I am making sure my minilessons are focused and to the point and during the time when I pull my chair up to individuals/small groups of students to confer with them about their writing? Yes. It can be done.
Here are some suggestions that have helped me make the most of my students’ writing assessment data and translate this data into usable instructional plans:
Big Picture Unit Planning:
Setting Goals-One simple way to prioritize the teaching that your students will benefit from is to look across your students’ writing assessment rubrics taking note of specific areas of strength and areas for growth. Before you jump into planning a series of minilessons in the unit of study that will address all of the areas for growth…STOP.
First, reflect on the areas of strength for your students. Ask yourself: What are my students doing well? This becomes your jumping off point. When you keep in the front of your mind the strengths you have noticed, it will help you more carefully plan for your important next steps. As you consider what the students are doing well also think about what they are likely ready to start working on.
Next, determine the one or two big goals that you have for your students as a group by selecting goals that are in their zone of proximal development. Remember, you may not be able to teach to all of the areas of need in this one unit. For some students, you will need to address areas of need individually, in small groups, or later in the year, possibly when you are instructing in subsequent writing units.
Unit Overview- If you are using a resource such as the Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing by Lucy Calkins, you might find it helpful to look carefully across the unit overview once you have scored your students’ on-demand assessments. Once you have determined your one or two big goals for your group 0f students, look across the suggested minilessons, conferring/small group suggestions, mid-workshop teaching, and share plans. Find the places in the unit where you might need to focus greater attention. For example, you might have noticed that, in general, most of your students need to learn how to structure their writing more effectively. If so, you might use a highlighter to mark the lessons in the unit that focus heavily on writing structure. Or, if your students would benefit from crafting better leads in their writing, you might find the lessons in the unit that focus on leads. By highlighting the parts of the unit that address areas that your students will need instruction, you will be able to ensure your teaching is meeting the dynamic needs of the class.
Then/Now Classroom Display-I recently viewed a presentation during #TheEdCollabGathering in which @Deb_Frazier from The Two Writing Teachers Blog shared a brilliant technique that will fuel writing reflection in your classroom. Deb Frazier creates a classroom display for writing. In the display, she posts two pieces of writing for each student. For the first piece of student writing, Deb Frazier, places a copy of one piece of early writing work (possibly a student’s on-demand assessment). Then, next to the early writing piece, she places copies of writing work that each particular student is working on during the unit. This is a great way to create frequent opportunities for your community of writers to share, talk about and make plans for improving their writing with others. Lucy Calkins reminds us that our students must be the “mothers of their stories”, the ones in charge of making important decisions about revising their stories and making them better. This technique really encourages kids to share and think through their processes as writers to make continual improvement in an ongoing, reflective way that honors the growth of each individual writer.
As you dive into your next writing unit, try making one of these small changes that might make a big difference. Your writers’ understandings and writing will be stretched in powerful, lasting ways and you will feel more equipped to lift the level of your students’ writing if you connect what you know about them from their early assessments to the instructional plans you develop.