Your writing workshop is humming along beautifully.  Students are working, you are conferencing, life is grand…until you look in your grade book.  Gotta get those grades, right?  But where are those assessments going to come from?

Easy formative assessments to use with writing workshop
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You might not want to wait until the final draft or essay is turned in.  Parents and administrators can get a bit…testy over grades that are “dumped” into the grade book at the end of a project.  How can they see where the child needs help?  How do they know that the child is being assessed along the way?  Where are those all important formative assessments?

Even when you’re conferencing with students on a regular basis and have a clear idea of where your students are in the writing process, you’re still going to need to show that in your grade book.

Here are some assessment ideas for writers’ workshop workshop that won’t add to your pile of grading:

Make Students Accountable.

Set up clear deadlines and checkpoints for students to meet.  For example, you may want to require that a draft is completed by a certain date or that peer reviews will take place at a particular time.  You can provide a grade for meeting those deadlines.

Have Daily or Weekly Checkins.

This can be as simple as an exit card  that you collect at the door as your students leave (I like to call it their “ticket out.”)  You can use a point system that can add up to a weekly grade.

Use Formative Assessments.

Ask students to show mastery (or at least to practice the skill) of your mini lesson for the day.  For example, if your mini lesson is on sentence variety, have students revise a paragraph from whatever writing project they’re working on to show sentence variety that you can quickly score.  I like to use a scale of 10 (perfect), 9 (good), 8 (average), 7 (needs work).  I rarely give a score below a seven — if the student wrote a paragraph, I can’t justify a failing grade.

If you do this, make your life easier by grading just one thing: the concept from the mini lesson! You already grade waaaay too much as an ELA teacher, and when you are looking at a formative assessment like this, you really want to see if your students grasp the concept of the mini lesson.

I love formative assessments for just this reason.  When you look at them, you can see where the learning takes place.  Can students show that they understand a specific writing skills? Have I taught it effectively?  Do I need to pull students in to a group conference to review the mini lesson again?  Or was the mini lesson below my students’ skill level?

Read & Review Prewriting & Drafts.

Collect and review work on a regular basis.  Again, you can use a simple and quick score to assess this work.   Personally, I don’t like to give completion grades because if students are receiving 100s for the preliminary work of an essay and don’t earn a 100 on the final essay, you really haven’t provided valuable opportunities for growth and learning.

In order to shorten the grading time, use your rubric as a checklist.  For example, if an element in your rubric is to use concrete examples and the writer has provided some, but not enough, you can simply check that item on the rubric.  Since you are reviewing a draft, the student should and can go deep into the essay and locate examples.

The one who is doing the work is the one who is learning!

Put the responsibility back on the student to find and justify the use (or lack of) concrete examples.  Remember, “The one who is working is the one who is learning!”

If you weigh grades, adjust assessments according to what you review.  A prewriting graphic organizer needs to be scaled differently from a draft.

Grade the Writing Process

You can also use the writing process as a quick assessment.  If you use a writing scheduler, each item on the list can be an assessment.  Again, you can use a 10 point scale and score as you go.  I love using checklists as a “walking grade book.”  You can pop the checklist on a  clipboard and assess as you move around the class.  You can add a participation or productivity row on your writing scheduler as well.

The Bottom Line

While there is no magic bullet for assessing writing — in order for your students to grow as writers, they need feedback and assessments.  And whether we like it or not, we are expected as teachers to provide students and parents with regular grades in that grade book!

Keeping up with assessments as the writing process moves forward, will make your life easier and less stressful and provide your students with the feedback they need.

Let me know what you think!  How do you keep up with those assessments?

With gratitude,

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