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Assessing Student Writing

Happy Sunday!  I have spent the past hour or so reading through my students latest writing assessment pieces and thought I 'd share my process.

I really hate scoring student seems so unnatural.  I mean, I want to praise the effort of each and every one of my students.  Writing is HARD and I spend a great deal of the first half of the school year trying to convince my third graders that "ish" writing is okay.  "You are fledgling writers," I say "and I don't expect it to be perfect.  I only want your to do you best."  Then I break the news that they will receive a score on some of their writing, and the groans begin.  It is a necessary evil, but I have to be careful not to kill that love of writing that I've worked so hard to spark this year.

I have found that the trick is not to score or judge everything that students do in their writing.  They need lots of opportunities to "fool around" in their writing and to try things out risk-free, without me hovering over their shoulder.  That is where HUGE learning happens.   When I try out a new teaching strategy, I certainly don't want my principal watching me every step of the way.  I need time to try things out, fail, and then work out the kinks.  That is exactly what my students need!
I give them helpful feedback on their day-to-day writing......sometimes.....if they really want/need it.  They do tons of sharing with their peers, which I feel is really important.  But I only formally assess every few weeks.  I do this by administering an "on-demand" writing prompt. 

I choose an open-ended generic topic that will engage all of my students.  If we are working on personal narratives, it is narrative prompt, if we're working on essay, its an essay prompt, etc.  I introduce the topic, we talk a bit about it and then they have one hour to "show me what they've got."  I tell them that this is their opportunity to really shine and to use all of the writing strategies they have learned over the past several weeks.

Last year, I put together a whole pack of on-demand prompts, which includes several narrative, opinion and informational topics.   Every 2-3 weeks, I choose one to assess my students.  The assessment "booklet" that I put together for each student includes a cover page with a editing/revision checklist, a planning page and drafting paper.  It's kind of like those "blue books" you'd get in college when you had an essay question. Here is a sample of the pages in the booklet:

I like to run the booklets on different colored paper each time I assess, which makes it easy for me to discern (at a glance) when the prompt was given.  If you are interested, you can purchase the on-demand prompts at my TpT store:

I then score the prompts using a rubric.  I introduce students to the rubric at the beginning of the unit we are working on, so they know exactly what is expected.  I have an assessment toolkit for both third and fourth grade, which includes rubrics for all CCSS writing genres (narrative, opinion and informational).

The cover page of their assessment booklet includes a space for me to write their score and to give them feedback.  I usually give each student a star and a wish.  When I return the prompt to them, they look at their score and the feedback given, record it on a data page in their data notebooks and write a goal for next time (based upon the feedback that I gave them on the prompt).  It is important to be prompt in scoring and returning these to students, so that they can immediately begin to implement the suggested feedback into their writing.  Here is the data sheet they use for recording their score (also available in the On-Demand Writing Assessments pack):

Students have learned to like not hate this assessment process.  They look forward to getting some critique about their writing.....they are always excited to see their score and the feedback given.  More importantly, I see a great improvement in their writing....they really work hard to do better each time and implement the suggestions given.  It also makes things much easier when it comes time for parent teacher conferences and report cards.....takes all the guess work right out of it!

I save all of their on-demand prompt assessments until the end of each unit.  At that time, students go through all of their writing, reflect on their progress and put together a "portfolio" to take home and share with their families, which includes the prompts, data sheets, their draft writing and polished pieces.  Nice!

If you have any questions about this process, please don't hesitate to ask.  How do you assess student writing...I would love to hear from you!  Thanks again for dropping by today!  I will leave you with a brand new FREEBIE that I just posted last week....writing menus for your students!  Enjoy!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Kathy Olenczuk


A Literature Notebook for Common Core and a FREEBIE

Oh me, oh my!  How to teach those darn common core "Reading Literature" standards?  They are so hard, aren't they?  I know it is supposed to be a good thing to teach elementary kids to "do" close reading, but it is really challenging as a teacher.

I decided to start with an "interactive" notebook to introduce the standards to my students and to put the vocab (central message, key details, character motivations, literal, non-literal, etc) into their little ears.  I created notebook pages that simply explain each of the standards and the vocabulary necessary to understand the standards.  Some of them I had to break into several notebook pages...because some of those things encompass several skills.  Then I added a partner page where we can try out the strategy together, using a read-aloud.  Here is an example of the notebook pages we added for "Text-Based Questions" (R.L. 3.1).

When we did these pages, I used the book The Rough Face Girl by Rafe Martin.  (I wish I was one of those bloggers who remembered to take photos of the examples we did in class, but I'm not that organized...maybe someday....sigh).  The book worked great for talking about literal vs. non-literal questions.  On the "Try It" page I wrote a non-literal question from the book for the kiddos to answer and provide "text-based evidence".

Of course they got the idea right away!  NOT!  Actually they need a lot of practice answering those non-literal questions and providing evidence to support their claims (yikes).  Soooo.....I created some additional graphic organizer pages that could be used for more practice.  The great thing is that these organizers can be used with any book and can be used to revisit the skill/strategy throughout the school year.  Of course....your kids will probably get it the FIRST TIME so you won't need these..right?  LOL!

Here is an example of the graphic organizers that go with the notebook pages shown above related to Text-Based Questions (R.L. 3.1).  Click HERE to download them for FREE! 

As I introduce each of these standards I am mostly using folktales, fables and myths as the mentor texts/read-alouds, since that is the type of text specifically referred to in the Common Core.  We have read several different versions of Cinderella:

And Red Riding Hood

Some others we've read:

 Not so sure about Greek Mythology and third graders (pretty scary stuff and a bit riské).  But if common core says its okay...well, it must be then, right?

My Reading Literature Reference Notebook PLUS (including the graphic organizers) is available in my TpT store  It is a work in progress, and will be updated as I use my third graders as guinea pigs!

Thank you for stopping by....I would love to hear how you are addressing the RL standards!  Happy Weekend!


Descriptive Writing

I happily admit that writing is my favorite subject to teach.  Unfortunately it is often the least favorite time of day for many students.  I find this so discouraging, because I love to write and I really want my students to enjoy it too!  That is why one of my missions in life is to find ways to make students like writing!

We are currently writing personal narratives in third grade.  My students start the year with many skills already in place.  They have learned the basic conventions of writing and they can write a story with a beginning, middle and ending.  The most common missing link in their writing seems to be adding enough detail to make their story clear and interesting for the reader.  In other words, they tell the beginning, middle and ending...but pretty much that's it!

So we spend a lot of time learning strategies for adding details.  Too often teachers tell their students that they "need more details" but neglect to give solid lessons on "how" to do that.  Students tend to equate "more details" to just "more".  Then you get stories that just ramble on endlessly without much focus on the topic or "heart" of the story.  The common core has given us some guidelines to help students to add meaningful detail to their writing through the language that they have used in the standards.

Writing standard 3 for third grade states that students use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations.  This is a great start to helping students to add the right details to their writing.

I find the following things to be key in writing a detailed narrative:


Too often you see students choosing topics that are way too large and encompassing.  Topics like "My Trip to Disney" are so large that students can only tell about the events and not many details.  These types of stories turn into boring retellings of what happened first, next, next, next, then, then....and on and on!  You know what I'm talking about....these are torturous to read!  LOL!  Teaching students how to choose tiny moment topics will lead to stories that can be enriched with lots and lots of juicy details.  Instead of "My Trip to Disney", a better topic might be "Taking Off On Space Mountain", which lends itself to a great story filled with wonderful and exciting details about riding the dark and scary rollercoaster!

Here's a little FREEBIE to help your students choose seed ideas (It is 2 pages from my new mini-unit on Descriptive Writing.


During reader's workshop, we are always getting students to think about the "author's message" or the heart of the story.  What lesson did we learn from the book?  When we ask students to write their own personal narratives, we often neglect to ask them to include an author's message.  Without this component, their stories often lack focus and direction.  When planning their story (I love using a story mountain), students should begin with a seed topic that also has a lesson or message to be learned.  They should reflect on why the story is important to them and what will others learn from their story.  I like to call it "the heart" of their story.   They can then place focus on the most important part or parts of their story and add details to the parts of the story that highlight the message they want to convey.


Third graders are often shocked when I tell them that they will write and re-write their stories several times before they are done with it.  Coming from first and second grade they haven't quite grasped the idea behind the writing process yet.  They think that editing and revision are basically the same thing.  They reality is that the details and descriptions in a story often get added on during the revision stage of writing.  First draft writing is quick and tells the story without too much detail.  I have students write many "first draft" narratives before they have to pick one that they'd like to revise.  It is during this revision stage that I spend several lessons teaching strategies for adding more details to their writing.  They then go back into that story they picked and "try out" each strategy by adding details here and there to make their story better.  They are always pleasantly surprised by the great changes they see in their story after they have revised by adding more detail.

Some of the strategies for adding more details that I like to teach:

-Adding sensory details to help the reader experience the story with all five senses.
-Telling the internal story:  What were the characters thinking and feeling?
-Describing the action in the story.
-Sprinkling in dialogue.
-Repeating a word to emphasize and idea or action.
-Include a detailed description...of a person, place or thing.

When students are given the tools they need to improve their writing...they start to enjoy it more!  They know what to do and they really get into it. 

If have put together a mini-unit on Detailed and Descriptive Writing, which includes lessons on these strategies and more.  I would love to give it away to a few of my followers!  If you are interested, in the comment section below please leave your email address and share a little writing tip that you think we might find helpful in our writing instruction.  I will choose at least three "winners".

Thank you for stopping by today....I hope you have a wonderful week!