Assessment That Doesn’t Suck

Feel like writing...I’m happily plopped on a friend’s couch in Seattle, trying to enjoy the last few days of winter break, but needing to look ahead to the next six months at the same time.  I hate multitasking.  I pulled out my work bag early in the a.m. and started scoring this groovy little assessment I had my students complete before the holidays.  The whole thing is based on work of some other great NWP TCs whose presentation I watched last month in NYC. 

First I had my students draw a picture of themselves as writers, then had them write a supplement to the picture giving any explanation they wanted and asking them to articulate how they feel about themselves as writers.  The purpose was to get a look at their perceptions of what writing is, their attitudes toward writing in general and their writing identities in particular, their metacognition of what happens in their writing processes, etc.  I used a simplified version of the protocol developed by smarter NWP minds than mine.

As time goes on, I see some of what I’ve learned helping me to understand and differentiate instruction more in writers’ workshop, but my first-blush reflection is definitely what I learned about the areas I’m teaching well in and where I clearly need to make greater efforts.  My students overall have a strong sense of the tools writers use and the need for planning, envisioning, and revising their writing.  The best news for me was that nearly all of my students expressed very positive attitudes toward writing (and nobody thinks it stinks, hooray!).  The expressions of how successful they feel as writers were less clear–I’ve had a sense of needing to do more reflection on writing pieces and processes, and I think a little of that will tell me more about this.

Glaring me right in the face is a universal lack of mention of either purpose or audience from my writers.  I know this doesn’t mean that they are totally inconsiderate of these, but given how important knowing purpose and audience is for writers, I see a clear need to do more modelling and instruction and conferring that helps my students increase their awareness of purpose and audience as well as their abilities to articulate purpose and audience in their own writing pieces.

There’s a lot more I have gleaned from my students’ drawings and written reflections, but what I’ve mentioned is enough to keep me very busy for the next while!  I hope to tweak this tool and use it in a few months to see how my students’ attitudes have grown or shifted.  So much of the written assessment I do (voluntarily or not) with my students tends to be a drag for them, but this was enjoyable for most and has provided me with lots of food for thought about their learning and my teaching.  It even helps get at some of those rather ridiculous Michigan GLCEs that insist that students will love writing.   I hate to end ’07 on a cynical note, but it is sadly the case that most imposed assessments are not only a bit painful for the students, but lack much that I find useful in teaching.  Maybe ’08 will find me with more useful, rich assessments that have student learning at the core.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Erin Davis
    Jan 29, 2008 @ 18:32:19

    What is so amazing is that all this information was gathered about your students and yet it was enjoyable for everyone involved. Such a simple assessment (kids think) yet it revealed very clear lines that lay out your instruction for them. What makes this assessment so valuable is two fold, the direction you get as a teacher and the self-reflection each writer in your class gets.

    In order to make assessments more purposeful we must do this kind of public reflection. You have to share your discoveries about what works and what is valuable to all. It is only through open dialogue that we can examine what are the best assessments to allow everyone to be relflective and proactive in their teaching. Thank you for sharing and keep being a voice for the young people in your classroom. I will share your voice!


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