Formative Assessment Helps Students Become Better Writers

One of the standards indicates students should write over an extended period, revising several drafts. Each draft is an opportunity for us to do formative assessment.

(Day 14 of my 30-Day Writing Challenge)

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

The Definition of Formative Assessment

English teachers (including myself) often stare at either the stack of papers they have to grade, or their submissions list for a writing assignment. We are overwhelmed by having to grade all these essays, reports, or research papers. It’s overwhelming.

There are stories of teachers procrastinating. Assignments pile up. The next thing they know, they are taking a personal or sick day just to grade that physical or digital stack.

I see two problems with that:

  • We get tired. The assignments at the “bottom” of the pile probably do not get as much attention as those on the top.
  • By the time students get their papers back, they have forgotten what they wrote about, and probably wrote other texts with the same mistakes since then. The feedback loop has begun!

Those who have mastered the art of writing assignment grading have advised me of the following:

  • Stop being the students’ editor.
  • Save time by using rubrics.
  • Spend the most time on one aspect of the essay, like the thesis statement. Provide ample feedback on that aspect.

To their advice, I am adding:

  • Make a list of issues to address with the class and source materials for instruction. Have the students review their work and correct issues after each lesson.
  • Create a long-term assignment with multiple drafts and detailed rubrics the students use to evaluate themselves before turning in the assignment.
  • Since we have to account for everything students do (don’t get me started), these drafts should be categorized as formative assessment, and that category should be worth only 2% of their grade.

The Low Risk, High-Impact Assignment

So I have a plan for certain writing assignments this year. Before I venture into that territory, I will need to complete the diagnostics I wrote about in my post, “Meeting Students Where They Are.” Then, we can carry on!

Each quarter, I will introduce an essay topic that we will work on over the quarter. I will provide direct instruction on essay writing, including thesis statement, essay structure, writing excellent paragraphs, the introduction, the conclusion, and the most important thing: answering the entire prompt.

I will create a rubric to address the needs of the students regarding grammar, style, and elements of the essay. Students will use this rubric to evaluate each draft, including the final one.

With each draft, students will practice the art of revision, elaborate on their thoughts, and learn how to edit their writing. They will use the feedback I provide them to improve their writing each time. Additionally, each draft — until the last — is low-risk. Each draft will bring them closer to confidence in communication. I cannot wait to see that.

How Many Drafts?

The students will tell me how many drafts they need. At this time, I do not want to venture to guess.

How Does This Fit with Everything Else You Need to Do?

Yes, that is a good question, but I do have an answer. I have been thinking about the schedule for my classes over the past couple of weeks, and decided our lives will be much easier if certain days are dedicated to similar activities, even when each class is working on different units the other days. Therefore, I have decided to make at least one day a week “writing day.” I’m thinking Monday would be a good day for “writing day.” Then, I would have several days to review the submissions and return my feedback.

Thank you for reading this, my fourteenth post in my 30-Day Writing Challenge. I hope you enjoyed it.

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