There’s no secret that one of the most challenging and time-consuming subjects to assess can be writing. Many teachers dread grading a pile of writing pieces at the end of a long writing assignment. The good news is there are ways to work smarter, not harder, when assessing writing skills!
Below are 8 helpful tips you can use for assessing writing skills of students at all of the stages in the writing process to ensure you know your students’ strengths and weaknesses. This will help you support your students in growing as writers by planning purposeful mini lessons and differentiated small group and one-on-one instruction. In addition, it will equip you with the knowledge to confidently share writing progress with students’ parents through report card notes and parent-teacher conferences.
1. Use formative assessments
Utilize formative assessments throughout the writing process to notice what students are doing well, catch mistakes, give helpful feedback, and reteach skills to students. There are 3 main formative assessment strategies for assessing writing skills and providing feedback during the writing process. Check out the 3 writing assessment examples below: One-on-one conferences, small group intervention, and informal observations.
Individual conferences are a great writing formative assessment strategy for assessing writing skills. The teacher works with students one-on-one as the rest of the class continues to write. Focus on giving thoughtful feedback on each student’s work based on the skill you focus on in the whole group lesson. You could also use this as an opportunity to have students ask you specific questions they have about their writing. To make this more manageable, you could set a goal of conferencing with 5 or so students a day, each day of the week, during their writing time. Each conference does not need to take more than 5 minutes to give feedback effectively. Be sure to provide positive feedback along with any other constructive criticisms of students’ work.
Small group conferences
Small group conferences are another effective writing formative assessment strategy for assessing writing skills. The teacher works with small groups of students who need work in the same skill areas. Let’s say you have three students who are struggling with the organization of their writing. Meet with them at the same time! Use this time to reteach the skill they need and then have them practice while giving feedback in real time. For small group conferences, pull 1-2 groups each day of the week, and you have likely met with all students by the end of the week! This is a huge time saver for the teacher because they can meet with more students quickly.
Informal observations as students work
Informal observations are a third quality formal assessment for writing skills. One way to give feedback very efficiently is to use sticky notes to write one specific thing the student did well and one clear place they can improve. I called them a “glow” and a “grow.” You could do this while students are working on their writing, OR you could do this during your prep period. I would use this strategy to quickly give feedback when my writing block was broken up by specials time. So, while my students were at PE, art, or music, I would leave sticky note feedback while they were gone. You can even make a quick list of students struggling with the same things during this time to pull for a small group so that you can reteach the skill later. Of course, you could use this tip without the sticky notes to make it even more time-efficient! This strategy is so much more effective than just walking around during writing time telling students “good work.”
2. Teach and reteach errors common to whole group
If there is a skill that most of your class is struggling with, teach or reteach the lesson! Rather than repeatedly reteaching to an individual or small group of students, plan another lesson around the skill they are struggling with. Model the skill for students and have them practice just that skill if possible. Show an example of other students’ writing from years past (names covered, of course) or show your own example. This alone is a great discussion starter. Students should be able to notice the mistakes or areas for growth in the author’s writing. You can then discuss why that skill is something authors should think about.
3. Use rubrics
Give students a rubric at the beginning of the writing process to have a list of what the expectations are for the writing piece. This will help them go back through their writing independently and understand how you are assessing their writing skills and what you are looking for. Rubrics can be adjusted to fit what you are learning at the time and can be easily made. If you work on descriptive language and complete sentences, let the rubric reflect that plus any other non-negotiable skills you have already taught, like capitals, ending punctuation, and complete sentences. Rubrics also save you a ton of time giving the same feedback if students know what is expected before writing. Then, students use the rubric like a checklist to ensure they have not left anything out before turning in their writing assignments.
4. Employ peer feedback and conferences
As the year goes on and students are more familiar with writing expectations, students can be paired up for peer conferences to discuss their writing in detail. With preparation like modeling and specific rubrics, students can give great feedback to their peers. Students shift their perspectives to be readers and authors at the same time. Just hearing their work read aloud by a peer brings to light revisions the author might want to make to their writing. Sometimes it’s even easier for students to critique others’ writing than their own! This is a great strategy for students to receive feedback on their writing, without you having to be involved in assessing their writing skills during this step.
5. Utilize student reflections
After finishing a writing piece, students can reflect on their writing. Did they feel they did their very best work? What are they most proud of? What did challenges they face? Students can reflect on the writing process and gain the awareness needed to become stronger writers. This also gives them the opportunity to assess their own writing skills so they can identify their strengths and weaknesses.
6. Administer summative assessments
After students have completed the entire writing unit, students can take a benchmark or summative assessment. Students should be able to show what they learned throughout the unit here. For example, if you taught a whole unit on persuasive writing, students should write their persuasive writing piece using all the characteristics of a persuasive essay. These assessments are often used as test grades or project grades. Teachers can look at how students’ writing comes together after they have gone through the whole writing process. Summative assessments show students’ cumulative knowledge and are great for portfolios! Summative assessments are an effective tool for assessing students’ writing skills.
7. Grade less
Seriously, do not grade everything. You have been giving feedback throughout the writing process, and students have revised and edited their work several times. Pick 2-3 critical skills like sentence variety, evidence, or correct usage of commas. Grade only the important objectives at that time and focus on giving feedback on those key areas only. This simplifies the process of assessing students’ writing skills.
Instead of leaving a whole paragraph of comments or notes throughout your students’ writing, keep it short. Leave one positive comment and one area for overall improvement at the end of the writing assignment. This, combined with the use of a rubric, is a HUGE time saver when grading summative assessments. After students have gotten feedback throughout the writing process, you don’t need to leave novels at the end of their final drafts!
Resources for Assessing Writing Skills
Below are resources for assessing writing skills.
Quarterly Writing Assessments
Assessing writing skills of students periodically is simple with this seasonal writing projects resource. It gives you a snapshot of their writing abilities throughout the year, I created a set of print-and-go seasonal writing projects for each grading period. There are four seasonal projects, so you’ll be good to go for the entire school year! Each project is differentiated for grades 2-5 and can be used with ANY of the assessment tips above. They each come with both digital and print-and-go resources for the writing process steps, such as detailed instructions, graphic organizers for planning writing, differentiated writing paper, rubrics for easy assessing, and a student reflection activity! These seasonal writing projects are PERFECT for putting together a yearlong writing portfolio, parent conferences, and end-of-term grades!
Weekly Writing Assessments
If you are looking for more regular writing practice resources that can be used as formative assessments for assessing student writing, check out these paragraph of the week resources!
In closing, we hope you found these tips for assessing writing skills helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in these posts: