September 21st, 2010
What about grades?
This is a common question teachers ask when transitioning from traditional writing lessons to writer’s workshop. Let’s take a look at these two formats.
Traditionally teachers have had students write many products (all students writing on the same topic) and graded most of them. Or, over weeks, teachers take all their students through the stages of the writing process simultaneously, and grade the single product at the end.
But with writer’s workshop we understand that:
1) Students are given many opportunities for practice. Not every piece needs to be graded.
2) Because students choose their own topics most of the time, they are at all different stages of the writing process.
3) Some students will write many short pieces while others will work on the same piece for a substantial length of time. It doesn’t matter – as long as each student is learning (and that means revising).
So how do we grade? You can do it one of two ways. As you end each unit of study (I organize my curriculum around six traits, but you might use genres, Lucy Calkin’s units of study, or skills closely integrated with your reading instruction) ask students to choose their very best piece of writing and polish it for assessment. Let students know when you need one piece brought to completion.
Or, you can assess your students’ progress and understanding of the skills you’ve taught by giving them a prompt on a specified assessment day. I prefer the former method as it allows for feedback and revision and this second model does not. (I know that this is how states assess students, but I opt for maximum instructional time in the classroom believing that this is what brings higher test scores.)
I know many administrators ask for long lists of graded products. This practice has likely come from the need to increase writing time (and instruction) in the classroom. The only way students learn how to write is to write. But, if you can convince your administrator that your students’ time on task has increased greatly through a writer’s workshop, perhaps the model for grading can be adjusted as well.