Reimagining Writing Assessment: A Reflection + Giveaway

The pressures that exist in education are practically touchable. Their thickness can be raked in the hallways and classrooms of today in ways that may make teachers uncomfortable to have a unique thought. I am surrounded by loving, caring, and intentionally supportive educators across doorways, roadways, and hyperspace networks and yet this anomaly of measurement hangs on my shoulders pushing me to deliver a number that defines the growth in each of my writers a few times a year. This is not a unique requirement. This is likely your requirement as well.

In some cases, it may feel very adequate and representative of your writers. There may also be this little voice hanging on your earlobe whispering, “Hmm, does that number show every data interpreter the sweat that writer perspired, the mind space, effort, and perseverance required by each pen stroke? I enjoyed this as a reader, yet, on this map of requirements, the destination is a shallow valley far below the peak of proficiency.” Maybe you just feel like there must be a better way. That maybe one way for everyone isn’t the best way for a community and yet you are stuck in this tug-of-war between compliance with accountability measures and the potentially creative thoughtful writers buried under the formulaic strategies of point masters.

Well, now that I got that off my chest, I promise to lighten the mood but I also hope you find some space and time to spend with this book. I knew from the moment I read the first chapter back in March that this book would challenge my current comforts. I knew I would need to let it simmer for a while and I have. I’ve also tried multiple times to dilute my thinking out of fear and concern that I might stir the pot too quickly. It often feels like there is no time, but after reading, simmering, and stirring the ideas provoked by Maja Wilson, I feel like I can begin to think more critically, strike a balance out of necessity, and resist the urge to dilute and instead persist for something better.

My journey with this book all began back in February when a video popped up in my social media feed. It was titled, What’s Wrong with the Punitive Education Reform Movement and the speaker’s name was Maja Wilson. After listening to this video, I decided to seek out some of her books and found that her most recent was Reimagining Writing Assessment, From Scales to Stories. I quickly got my hands on a copy and read it straight through. Over the summer I began to reread it, this time much slower, reading small sections and taking notes. It took me months. Now my book looks like this:

Then came the question, how do I write a review of a book like this for an audience that is primarily using rubrics as a means to measure growth? The resounding message of this book, stated on the last page of the introduction says this:

As I began to reread sections for the purpose of this post, this message disrupted me again and made me uncomfortable, and I had to whisper to myself, discomfort is the only way to bring good change. I was just saying it to someone on the phone the other day in fact. We can’t stay cozily captive in our four-walled classrooms and expect the best things to just–happen. They happen when we do something new! I wondered if others were as disrupted as I was and just yesterday I ran across this:

There are other ways, and Maja forms these ideas of feedback with interpretive lenses toward story and conversation. It’s not necessarily a neatly packaged answer like we may sometimes desire. Authentic writing and organic feedback are never neat and tidy. It’s going to take some thinking. It’s going to take a push to dig and get dirty allowing new undergrowth to emerge.

I could tell you about each part of this book. I could give you my summarization of the best parts and steer you in a direction to find answers that will suit your needs. The fact is, this book is one you just have to read yourself. Your readiness and willingness to interpret the ideas and problems posed by rubrics, a widely used means of assessing students for many, is not something anyone can change in a day. We can’t change it after reading a book either. However, the book can be the catalyst that starts the cogs and gears moving in synchronicity to a point where new energy, excitement, and innovation can begin.

What I found fascinating was the initial shaping behind rubrics and the amount of research Wilson shares within the pages of this book. The idea that foundations of scales were created over a century ago. To realize we are constantly experiencing the world at every moment through senses, memories, emotions, thoughts, and reflections and ultimately this impacts our growth. We may be able to learn certain skills by following a set of rules, but we cannot learn to write in this way. As teachers, we are influenced by what a rubric asks us to evaluate. Take the rubric away, and we would have to ask ourselves, “what do I want to know about this writer and what they have to say?” Just as the writer needs space to think free of organizers, targeted demands, and the “telling as teaching” method madness.

Final thoughts and reflections. I hope that your interest is piqued and you might find a colleague to read this book with so you can have a thought partner to help digest and discuss its many layers. And finally, I’ll leave you with this, a quote from page 49 of the book in response to the question, what is growth in the right direction?

If you are interested in reading this book to push your thinking and open yourself up to new ways of assessing your writers, see the giveaway information below! Also, a reminder, my post from last Thursday has an offer of a Google Hangout to talk more about building independence in our writers. Click here for more information.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Reimagining Writing Assessment, From Scales to Stories by Maja WilsonMany thanks to Heinemann Publishing for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy please leave a comment about this post by Monday, December 17th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, December 21st. 
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Heinemann Publishing will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – Writing Assessment. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.