A Closer Look: Learning About Our Writers with Formative Assessment

A Closer LookWriting workshop works best when students have many opportunities to write, share, and receive feedback about their drafts.  In A Closer Look: Learning About Our Writers with Formative Assessment, readers will have an opportunity to peek over the shoulders of teachers and students as they participate in dynamic writing classrooms.  The book provides checklists, rubrics, tips for record keeping, and examples of anchor charts. In addition, several chapters are devoted to conferring and include QR Codes so that readers can actually see conferences in action. Readers will hear many voices in vignettes from classroom teachers, coaches, and administrators that are scattered throughout the text. Other vignettes appear online along with reproducible appendices that also appear in the book.

In the beginning of the school year, we need to learn as much about our students as possible. This knowledge informs our instruction. Interest surveys, inventories, and conferences can help us make decisions about what our students need. We might learn that we have a student who loves graphic novels and is trying to write one at home. For that student, we might build in some tips to help him in his endeavor and even ask him to share his drafts with peers and the teacher. That student could become the “expert” in writing dialogue during a narrative unit of study.  Here is one writing survey we used in third through sixth grades:

Kinds of writing enjoy

We have found that several checklists and rubrics help students hold a self-conference before asking peers and teachers to provide feedback. Although it is not important to always write with a checklist or rubric, it does remove the mystery from assessment. Checklists serve as gentle reminders to guide students through the process of writing a narrative, an opinion piece, or an informational text. Here is a simple checklist for primary grades (boxes would be much bigger so students can take notes in the form of drawings and labels) to help them get started.

Steps to get ready to write

What would you learn from this?  Looking at the responses on this checklist, the teacher can determine if the child is ready to begin drafting. Does he need more talk time?  Does he need instruction in determining a focus or using an organizational structure?

Remember that process is equally important as product. The checklist included here will help teachers take notes. Sometimes, this checklist can focus only on process. It can be used in a one-on-one conference or as a quick formative assessment when the teacher is clipboard cruising while students write independently. A teacher could simply highlight areas of strength in one color and areas of need in another color. The comment space can be used if necessary – possibly notes about future mini-lessons or flexible grouping possibilities.  Any checklist should serve the current student population. From year to year, adjustment can be made.

Teacher process - product observation checklist
How we handle assessment is a reflection of our beliefs and values. When we give our students a voice in the assessment process through ongoing dialogue in writerly discussions and conferences, we discover what they need to be successful writers. That knowledge will help us design and differentiate instruction.  You can begin by making a list of the ways you are currently assessing your students’ writing and their needs and what methods are most effective for you and your students. Then add to the list what you might do differently after reading our book. A Closer Look can guide you to make and record valuable observations every day. Students must be able to see themselves as real writers, not just students who are writing for a teacher and a grade. Formative assessment practices will give your students a chance to see themselves as the writers they are!

Documents you may download:

Diane Dougherty is an independent literacy consultant with 32 years of teaching experience. She has presented at state and national conferences and is a fellow of the National Writing Project and the PA Writing & Literature Project. Diane is the co-author of Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, and Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6 and A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Writers with Formative Assessment, K-6, both Stenhouse publications.

Lynne Dorfman is an adjunct professor at Arcadia University and a co-director of the PA Writing & Literature Project. Presently, she is an independent literacy consultant and is co-writing a new book with Stacey Shubitz, Welcome to Writing Workshop. Lynne has co-authored three books about mentor texts with Rose Cappelli.  She can’t wait to receive her own copy of A Closer Look this month. Lynne and Diane’s sessions at KSRA, CRA, WSRA, and local reading councils will highlight their new book.