Grading Writing Made Easy. Really.

Because I know you do not have enough time to grade writing--or do everything else we need to do!
Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing



My district requires us to use a pretty substantial rubric to go with our required writing assessments--and we are welcome to use it for others.  Here's the problem.  It's 2 1/2 pages long!  Not only that, it makes a LOT of assumptions about what my students should be doing with their writing--those basic skills like writing using proper conventions, sufficient details, and more.  The rubric doesn't "drill down" to that level of detail--and that's what I want to see in order to pull small groups and to plan my instruction.  Because I wasn't getting down to that level of detail, I'm afraid I just wasn't collecting enough data.

Now let's add the "real world" factor in here.  Grading and assessing writing takes a LONG time.  This is especially true if students are writing full essays and other large projects.  I knew I could do some better "quick" assessing if I figured out a way to just capture a small amount of writing.

I knew I didn't want to add MORE to my plate (our literacy curriculum is daunting enough!)—but I knew I needed something. I decided to try a short (8 minutes!) writing prompt once a week or so. By making it short, I didn't take away from instructional time, I am able to quickly score it (seriously--I spend 2-3 minutes per students TOPS) and give feedback, and I can use it to pull strategy groups while I teach our district curriculum. I wanted the rubric right on the page as a reminder for students…much like my other writing prompt resources. The difference? This is meant to be a quick snapshot—almost like an entrance slip before a writing class. I figure I can give up 8 minutes once each a week if it will help me to help my students, right? 

Collecting Writing Data Sensibly!


I figure by giving students a starting topic, we wouldn't waste time thinking of topics either—and each topic should be something that students really can write a decent “quick write” about. This isn't meant to be a full essay—just a quick write to check some important skills—and to help even my reluctant writers--to give me a good writing sample.  Why eight minutes?  Because even ten minutes seems like a long time to some writers--and eight is enough!  To be honest...if my students are REALLLLY into a topic, I may extend that time a little.  Right?

Thus the “Great 8” was born! Just 8 minutes to do…and seriously less than an hour to score…It's worth it!  Not only is that initial 8 minutes worth it, but I have found all sorts of other ways to use these prompts.  Check these out...



Revision practice

Sometimes I find it's just what I need to ask students to do their eight-minute writing, I collect it, score it, and decide what to do next.  Sometimes, I use that SAME piece of writing to work on revision skills with my students.  In this example, students worked to reread their writing the next day and use their red pen to find places to make improvements.  I often give them one or two specific things to look for--in this case, we looked at pronouns (something we have been talking about) and I asked them to decide if they had too many, not enough, or just the right amount.  We also double checked for punctuation and capital letters.  The whole revision experience?  12 minutes.
Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing


Partner revising and editing


Much like the quick revision lesson above, the same type of writing experience can be done in partners.  Sometimes I might ask students to focus on just one element--perhaps "descriptive details" where the partnership works to decide if each person added ENOUGH detail and if all those details were on topic. Sometimes we might look for a place to add more details...or find "everyday" words that could be replaced with something more vivid.  Often, two minds can come up with some great ideas...it's very challenging for students to look critically at their own work and make sweeping changes.
Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing


Writing Self-Assessment

Teaching writing is hard--but grading and assessing writing is even harder! Check out this blog post with ideas on how to get more writing instruction and assessment into your day--so you can use the data you collect to make sound instructional decisions. Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing, homeschool
Another use of these demand prompts is to get students reflecting on their own writng.  I will often talk through the writing checklist, stressing what our current targets are--and ask students to self-assess before I grade their work.  I often have them use a highlighter so I can see what they have picked, but my colored pen easily shows what the "real" score is.  If I find a place where there is a huge discrepancy, it helps me confer with the student to help them understand where they may have a misunderstanding about what is expected.

Shared/partner writing

Another fun way to use these prompts is to actually have partners work together to write!  Either one student can start the piece, then pass it off to another student OR you can have them work together to craft a single piece.  This is especially valuable if you are working on something new (like adding transitions or quality "hooks").  They can work together on a practice piece--and then later you can ask them to try another one on a different topic.  This can be especially valuable if you have some struggling writers who would benefit from hearing the "think aloud" of a more capable author.
Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing


Teacher modeling

Another "lesson" I have learned from using these demand prompts--is that sometimes I notice that my students simply aren't doing something I want them to do.  When I see this, I know it's time for me to back up and do some modeling.  I can either write a piece ahead of time that I put under the document camera for us to study...I can write "in front" of the students where I model my thinking...or I could ask students to HELP me write by making suggestions that I then discuss with them and then record my final decision.

One example is earlier this year when we were doing opinion writing.  I was noticing that most students were writing very "formulaic" introductions or "hooks", and I wanted to show my thinking about some different ways to capture my reader's attention.  I had one lead prepared to share, and we discussed it as a class.  We then worked together to do several different hooks on the same topic--and then I looked specifically at leads the next time I asked them to write independently.


Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing

I hope you got some ideas for how these "quick writes" can be a really powerful way to impact writing instruction in your class--without having to do the HUGE projects that we so often tackle with our big units.  I'd love to hear your success stories!

If you are interested in these prompts, I have four sets and a bundled set...I use all of them at different times in the year, and I have blank ones in each set so I can write my own when it makes sense.  (You can see that I did that with my immigration prompt.)  I have seasonal prompts, opinion prompts, high-interest prompts (sleepovers, video games and more!), and "content" prompts which can be used to collect information about different topics you are teaching.  Each set has 18 ready-to-print prompts.  These would be GREAT for homeschoolers as well!

Want to pin this for later?
Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing

Want to check out the prompts?  Here is the link to the bundle--and all the other sets are linked within the description or are linked individually in the paragraph above.
Third grade writing, fourth grade writing, fifth grade writing, writing assessment, writing prompts, writing activities, writing lessons, teaching writing, opinion writing, informational writing



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