Evaluating Writing: Such a Challenging Task


This is one of those tasks that I KNOW is so important but that I just dread.  Whether it’s because I lack confidence or that I am still after 20+ years unsure of exactly what “4th grade writing” is, I struggle every time I need to evaluate student work.

This quarter our big unit was opinion writing.  It’s a great unit–and an important one, I believe.  We learn about stating clear opinions, supporting them with quality details, using transition words and phrases, and ending the essay with a solid conclusion.

But what does it mean to do this “proficiently”?  We have a district rubric that we use (thanks to Lucy Calkins), but for some reason, I just never feel like it gets to the meat of what we are teaching and expecting.  What does it mean to “Make deliberate word choices to convince my readers, perhaps by emphasizing or repeating words that would make my readers feel emotions.”?  Specifically–what does it mean to do that AT A FOURTH GRADE LEVEL?

We spend time looking over student work samples and we can usually come to some agreement about what pieces rise to the top, but we all struggle with really pinpointing what grade level writing is.  Then there is the issue of grading demand piece versus process pieces.  If you grade a piece that has been shared, peer edited, teacher revised, and so on–what can you grade?  The final product or how students handled the writing process?

As I was filling out the rubric on a demand opinion piece that I gave yesterday, I was beginning to notice that lots of my scores seemed to be similar.  I seem to be reluctant to ever give too many of the “top” scores because it feels like they maybe could have done a LITTLE more…and I think that’s because I am not super clear on what that magical standard is.

So today I thought I’d try something…I made a little quarter sheet to staple on top of the required rubric that highlighted each of the key lessons I taught during the unit.  I provided myself a little 2, 1, 0 scoring guide where I could “gut feeling” measure whether I felt the student showed no evidence of applying the lesson, some evidence, or solid evidence of the taught skills.  It looked like this.

It was kind of interesting to cross check it with the main rubric.  I feel like my checklist might do a better job of showing the student how they performed because it clearly states the features I was looking for in their piece. The district rubric perhaps gives a better overall “flavor” of their performance on the essay unit.  I’d love to have people chime in!  Do you find grading writing as challenging as I do?  Do you struggle to find the time to meet with students to go through their writing to help them make changes?  I’d love to have people share their best and brightest ideas!  Hope everyone is having a great weekend–and I look forward to your ideas!