I recently scored on-demand narrative writing assessments for a school’s worth of kids, K-8. In the past, I always designed, administered, and assessed my former students’ on-demand writing samples myself. Since the Units of Study books contain on-demand writing assessments for opinion, information, and narrative writing, I opted to use the assessment contained in Writing Pathways Grades K-5: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions by Lucy Calkins (Heinemann, 2013). While it was similar to narrative on-demand writing assessments I have given in the past, the idea of using this learning progression to norm students writing was new to me. (I remember working, way back in 2006, with the Narrative Writing Continuum, which the TCRWP was creating when I was in grad school. However, I never held up a student’s writing and said it appeared to be on a fourth grade level, fifth grade level, etc. It was always just me saying something like, “They seem like a skilled writer.”)
Annie Taranto spent time teaching us a bit about the new on-demand performance assessments in her staff development session at the Summer Writing Institute. However, nothing truly teaches you like rolling up your sleeves and grading assessments by yourself. As a result, I came away with five realizations from using the narrative on-demand assessment in Calkins’ book.
- Keep papers anonymous.
- Whether you’re scoring your students’ writing or the writing from the teacher down the hall, code students’ papers rather than having their names on top of them. This minimizes the chance of bias for you in the beginning of the school year or for other teachers (who recognize your students’ names, but not their handwriting) later in the year.
- Do this work alongside at least one other teacher.
- I did this work by myself. While this was efficient in terms of scheduling, I wish I could’ve scored the writing alongside one other person. There were several occasions when I wasn’t sure if a student demonstrated third grade or fourth grade level writing. If I had another person working alongside of me, I could’ve had a conversation about why the writing was more like a third grade level than a fourth grade level. As a result, I spent a lot of time re-reading the learning progression and the writing samples contained in the Writing Pathways book. (So much for working alone as a time saver!)
- Let the leveled student writing samples be your friend.
- Whenever I was unsure the grade level a student’s writing level was mostly like, I reread the grade level writing samples contained in Writing Pathways. There are two student writing samples for grades K – 6 (with Kindergarten having four samples: two early Kindergarten and two later the year samples). These were helpful since the samples allowed me to discover what grade level the student’s work in my hand was most like when the learning progression alone wasn’t enough to help me.
- The words “I think this student looks most like (a grade ___), because…” are helpful when you’re still unsure.
- Annie advised the use of the phrase, “I think this student looks most like (a grade ___), because…,” if we were unsure about what grade level a student’s writing was most like. I found myself saying this phrase aloud to rationalize my thinking, often referencing points from the learning progression. For instance, “I think this student looks most like a grade level four two because his structure and development were mostly on this level. Even though his language conventions are that of a fourth grade student, the structure, organization, focus, and elaboration of the writing seem more like a second grade student.” This phrase is one I can also imagine using when I meet with the school administration to help me justify why I “rated” a student a particular level.
- Use the information you glean to drive instruction.
- On-demand levels are not grades, ratings, or scores. They’re meant to help teachers figure out where students are in terms of the learning progression so they can be taught the skills they need to grow as writers. If you’re looking to set goals for students, to use during strategic writing conferences, a lot of information can be derived by looking at how students performed on their on-demand assessments.
What have you learned about your young writers by administering and scoring on-demand writing assessments? Please share by leaving a comment.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).