How to Use Clever Written Assessments to Easily Guide Instruction

Teachers use written assessments to help guide instruction for each unit throughout the school year.  They are a reliable diagnostic tool that can help teachers understand their students’ strengths and weaknesses better.  They are also time-consuming, have lots of work, and overwhelming at the same time.  It can be hard to know how to get a lot of diagnostic value out of written assessments.

My First Experience Grading Written Assessments

As a long-term substitute, I gave my students their beginning-of-the-year written assessments.  They spend so much time writing their stories and then the teachers got to spend hours reviewing them and going to a special meeting to discuss them.  These are all good and helpful ways for a teacher to know how to teach writing better.  However, every paper was the same and all the teachers could predict exactly what they were going to get from the students.  

What the Written Assessments Showed Us

The writing assignment was a list of what students did during their summer vacation rather than a story about the summer or preferably one special part of it.  It inevitably turned into a detailed explanation of breakfast and then a list of what they did first, second, and last.  It was painful to read and grade.  On top of that, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for or how to evaluate their writing.  Evaluating writing is very different from editing or grading writing.

What are the Types of Written Assessments

Written assessments are a way teachers gather data and information about students’ abilities for teaching and grading.

Formative written assessments are when a teacher takes notes and observations of students’ strengths and weaknesses.  Then the teacher uses the information to adjust and inform instruction.

Summative written assessments are when teachers grade the final draft of the student’s work.  It should still inform instruction in the future, but students will be graded on the final draft they turn in.

Some people like to break these types of assessments up even further.  Let’s look at some other ways to think about it.

Formative Assessments

1. Before Teaching Assessments are when teachers size up students’ abilities, so they know what students already know and don’t know.  These assessments often take place at the beginning of the year or before a new unit.  They provide quick information to help the teacher, but they are not for a grade.

2. Instructional Assessments are when teachers observe students daily to provide feedback, monitor progress, and adjust the daily lesson plans.  Most teachers automatically do this because it’s part of the job, but not everyone thinks of it as an assessment.

Summative Assessment

3. Official Assessments are summative assessments when teachers collect data and closely examine student work for grading and reporting.

Written Assessment Articles

Quick Writing Assessments to Guide Instruction

13 Creative Assessment Ideas for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening

How I Would Give Written Assessments Now

When I gave my first written assessment, I was doing exactly what the school and teaching team was asking of me.  They have some great ideas in place, but there are things I would change now that I know more about teaching, life, and kids.  Here are some of the aspects of writing we should assess and how to do it.

Suggestions for Written Assessments

Backwards design is when teachers decide what learning goals they want their students to achieve.  Then the teachers plan the assessment and lessons based on the learning goals.  It’s completely logical, but not every teacher does this.  These suggestions for written assessments lean into backwards design to help with written assessments and the lessons along the way.  Some of these are more applicable to units of study and some would be great to implement during the beginning of the year assessment.

  1. Learning Goals

Know what you want your students to be able to do and why.  You can do this by creating learning goals for the task and describing the assignment.  Learning goals require a teacher to go through a series of questions to make sure they are creating a helpful assignment.

·   Why do you want the students to complete the assignment?

·   What should they know?

·   What should they be able to do?

·   Why should they be able to do this skill?

·   How will you know when they reach the learning goal?

·   How will you assess it?

These questions seem a little silly because I feel like as teachers, we answer most of these questions in our minds automatically.  But if we practice critical thinking while creating lessons by answering these questions then our students will get more out of the lessons.  And you can never answer any of these questions by saying the Standards require our students to learn it.

  1. Plan Activities

Every activity we give our students should help push them toward a better understanding of the learning goal.  There shouldn’t be fluff or busy work because there are some big and important things our students need to learn.  Each activity within a unit should help students understand the topic better.

  1. Give Feedback Early

Students need feedback throughout the learning process.  As teachers, we are constantly gathering data and information on how our students are performing and learning.  We must because we change our lessons based on that.  We need to give our students direct and helpful feedback based on our observations early in the learning process to help them correct errors and learn better.  There are a few ways we can give feedback.  

·   We can talk to our students as their working. 

·   We can write on the drafts of their work.  

·   We can have students talk to each other.

Of course, there are some times that you won’t provide feedback like on a formative assessment in which your goal is to see what your students know.

  1. Multiple Planned Opportunities for Feedback Using a Design

As you decide your learning goal and plan lessons be sure that you plan in times for students to receive feedback.  They should have opportunities to get feedback in multiple ways from multiple sources.  It can be easy to skip these valuable feedback sessions because there is just so much to do and teach in a day.  Put it on the calendar, stop everything else and provide feedback.  Provide structure and guidance so students know what to do and multiple opportunities for it to happen.

  1. Clear Expectations

Give your students clear expectations.  Tell your students why they are doing a particular project and what you want them to learn from it.  As a gymnastics coach, I am constantly using drills to teach my gymnasts how to do harder skills.  As I explain the drill, I tell them why they are doing it.  “You are going to do your front handspring over this block so you learn to kick with more power.”  I find that they will work harder on some of the boring drills when they know why they are doing them.

Let your students know how they will be evaluated.  They don’t need a surprise writing assignment when they are going to be graded on it.  They can even help create the evaluation process.

  1. Refrain From Excessive Feedback 

Some students have so many things to fix in their writing that it’s overwhelming.  Think about the specific things you are trying to teach your students with the lesson or unit and focus on having them learn that through your feedback.  If you give them too many things, they won’t be able to focus and will probably become defeated.  Think about your learning goal in feedback before anything else.

  1. Make Suggestions

Try to remember that you are making suggestions about the things you think your students should fix.  Don’t take over their work.  Their paper and work should be open to suggestions, but they should keep control and ownership.

  1. Purposeful Responses

When we respond to our students’ work it can be broken down into two categories.  Be intentional with your responses to student work because it can help or hinder their growth.

Developmental responses allow us to build our student’s confidence and engage them in a discussion about their ideas and writing choices.  Using developmental responses, we can help them learn a particular skill or develop simple drafts into stellar pieces.

Evaluative responses involve more judgment in telling our students what they did right and wrong.  They do need these responses, especially on the final draft of written assessments that we are grading.  However, these responses tend to shut down conversations and halt growth.

Examine the Writing Process as Part of Written Assessments

Every time your students write it’s important to examine the process they went through.  If you are giving a formative assessment you are going to observe to see what students do and don’t do.  You need to see how they went about writing so you can help them improve their writing.  Their process could stop them from being incredible writers.  Look at their ability to…

·  Plan

·  Organize

·  Get their Thoughts on Paper (Are there obstacles?)

·  Spell (Do they check it or look up words?)

·  Reread What They Wrote

·  Share and Talk About Their Work

·  Revise

·  Edit

If your class is working towards a summative assessment, then you are probably teaching them parts of the process every day.  Watch to see what they struggle with.  Reteach and talk about the parts that they need to work on before so they can build a strong process that will get them to become strong writers.

Written Assessment Skills to Evaluate

When I first started looking at student writing I didn’t know what to look for.  I would try to look for the same things as my co-workers, but it was difficult to see what they saw.  I didn’t know exactly what skills I should be looking at in their written assessments.  There are rubrics that can support teachers through the process, but if we have a better understanding of the rubric items that should be included, then we will be able to do a better job grading student work. 

Here are five skills to focus on.  As I write rubrics, I will address each of these 5 skills to ensure that students are constantly learning them. I will usually break down these skills into smaller parts so that nothing is too overwhelming, but by constantly addressing these skills I am ensuring my students will grow as writers and their evaluation will be comparable throughout the year.

  1. Fluency

In writing, fluency is a student’s ability to translate their thoughts into words on a page.  This is a huge skill for both younger and older students.  Younger students are learning about print, experimenting with letters, and spelling.  Upper elementary and middle school students need to learn to write and think for growing periods of time.  They can think and talk about the topics we discuss but have trouble putting their ideas into words.  Older students need to continue to develop this skill as their thoughts become more complex.  It can be hard for them to explain their ideas in a way that others will understand.  This is what we want students to do when they are drafting their papers.  We want them to forget about the rules or perfect work, they just need to get their ideas down on paper.

  1. Content

Content is what students create through their writing.  Content encompasses so many skills and these skills change depending on the type of writing.  It is the originality, organization, and accuracy of their writing.  Their writing must be cohesive by staying on topic, using transition words, and being clear to the reader.  There should also be a clear and logical sequence of a beginning, middle, and end.  Each sentence serves a purpose for existing by having good form and function.  Content is a big area of assessment.

  1. Convention

Convention is what teachers are constantly caught up in grading.  Spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and legible handwriting are all part of convention.  These are very important but should not be the only thing we consider when we are examining our students’ written assessments.

  1. Syntax

Syntax is how students put words together to convey meaning to the reader.  When students are young, they tend to start every sentence the same.  As students get older and learn more, they can use variations in sentence patterns and expand their sentences using adverbs and infinities. Finally, students move on to compound and complex sentences.

  1. Vocabulary

Our students’ vocabulary should be constantly growing to more mature and unique words.  As students read, learn, and talk they will start to move away from overused and simple words and start to make their writing more interesting.  We want to watch how our students’ vocabularies grow. 

Rubrics for Written Assessments

The most important thing a teacher needs to know about the rubrics they use is that they will evaluate the learning goal of the assignment.  Rubrics can be used by genre or be specific to a unit.  What is nice about genre rubrics is that the teacher can use the same rubric over multiple assignments and units and see how a student progresses over the course of the year. 

Rubrics can help teachers make sure they are evaluating key learning points and are consistent with their expectations across the class.  They can help a teacher avoid correcting everything and only commenting on the key points of the rubric, which are directly impacted by the learning goal.

Final Ideas for Written Assessments

Communicating with students and checking to see what they understand can be challenging in a busy classroom.  Here are a couple of quick ideas

Respond to Comments

This is the best idea I have ever heard.  I hate spending time writing all sorts of comments on papers and then students look at the grade and shove the paper in a folder or binder.  I feel like I’ve wasted my time and that my students aren’t learning what they need to know to improve. 

When you hand back an assignment have students take 5 minutes to write a response to the comments you wrote.  It can be questions, concerns, or even justifications.  This process activates student metacognition about their writing.  They start to develop critical thinking skills because they are diving back into their work.  You can even give students one or two points back on their papers if they are working hard the whole time.

Exit Tickets

Exit tickets have become a popular teaching tool.  An exit ticket usually consists of two questions, one which is concrete and directly from the lesson, but the other should be open-ended.  Exit tickets force our students to think about what they learned and practiced during the class period.

Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry

I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing.  Here is an entire lesson for FREE.  My Our School Poem guides students by using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step

Leave a Reply