Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Units of Study Writing Assessment Reflections


 Reflections & Understandings about Authentic Writing Assessment in the Common Core Writing Workshop    Block: Part 1

This is the first post in a series about on-demand writing assessments, the teacher's role in administering, collecting and reviewing student data, and how that data will drive writing instruction.

So I'm sure you must be thinking I fell off.... you know, but I assure you I've been very busy. Actually, busier than I expected.  During the last three weeks, I have been facilitating training in my district using the new Units of Study writing assessment tools from the Lucy Calkins Common Core Workshop Curriculum.These scoring days have been the first of series of four trainings that will be provided over the course of this year to all of our elementary school teachers. They consist of cycles of grade-level professional development training using the new units of study writing assessment tools.

by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues

Here’s how it works… 

We begin the data cycle by having teachers administer an on-demand writing assessment prior to teaching in narrative, information or opinion/argument writing text types. During the on-demand assessments all K-6 students are given the same text-type specific writing prompt. (These were from They are asked to demonstrate all they know about writing within that specific text-type of writing in a forty-five minute sitting without any teacher support. 

So why an on-demand?

Our teaching on any given day is designed to lift writers, not just for that day, or piece of writing, but for every day and every future piece of writing they do. And we know that students are going to be assessed on what they can do independently, so knowing this, Lucy reminds us that we need to work with fervor to get students to transfer and apply the learning they do with your support to new work they do on their own. An on-demand allows a student to show-off what they can do independently and that gives us, as teachers, a chance to measure the stickiness of our teaching.

And why a pre and post?

I think we’re all used to an end of unit assessment as a way of determining what a student has learned and using it to determine whether or not they’re doing what they should be able to do.  This question is really about the pre-assessment. Many teachers ask me, “Why would I assess students on something they don’t know and that I haven’t taught them?” It doesn’t seem fair, or worth our time.
Here’s why we do it:
1)  It provides a baseline: We don’t know what our students know when they walk in our door, or begin a new topic of study. The pre gives us access to a starting place for each student, and it gives him or her an opportunity to work at their level.
2)  It allows teachers to self-reflect after a unit of instruction and ask “How should I adjust my teaching and expectations going forward?” 
3)  It supports our conversations with parents at conference time – a pre-post is specific evidence of learning and can be used to help parents understand their child’s growth trajectory. This is where they were, this is where they are, this is where they need to be, Here’s our plan for getting them their.
4)  It supports our conversations with students – it provides visible evidence of their growth, which spurs them on to make more progress.

Educational research has found that one of the most powerful things teachers can do in the classroom to lift student achievement is to engage them in a meaningful and regular feedback loop, using evidence (like the pre/post), goal-setting, conferring, and self-assessment, like the student checklist, to lift learning.

These writing samples are then collected and reviewed together with the company of their grade-level colleagues beginning the first steps of a data cycle.

      Step 1—Collect, sort student work in high, medium and low piles and chart data (see sorting activity below)
      Step 2—List students’ strengths and areas of concern
      Step 3— Prioritize areas of concern
      Urgent (+1)
      May need attention/remediation (+2)
      Material will be covered soon (+3)
      Step 4- Identify strengths
      Step 5-Establish goals: set, review, revise
      Focus on one-high leverage are of concern that will affect the most students
      Step 6—Select instructional strategies
      Step 7—Differentiate instruction
      Return to step 1 and identify teaching points for individual students to be used for small group instruction and/or conferring
      Step 8-Calendar when progress will be reviewed
      Next assessment date

Step 1- The sorting activity provides us with a quick way of seeing trends and patterns across the classroom and is critical in determining what is the high leverage area of concern we will target in instruction.

Next we can establish trends and patterns across grade levels and determine areas of grade level instructional focus.

Through studying performance assessments that differentiate student work along a continuum and through reflecting on adult proficient writing, teachers develop an understanding of the continuum of development. This knowledge helps teachers explicitly teach writers in ways that help them progress along a trajectory of skill development.
The Calkins Units of Study curriculum, is grounded in research on evidenced-based teaching (see John Hattie's Visible Learning, Geoff Petty's Evidence-Based Teaching , etc).
Teachers study what writers do, and consider goals that are within reach yet rigorous. Teachers give feedback that helps writers understand the progress they have made, and that which they still need to make, helping writers grasp onto important goals and work, deliberately practicing, so they become more proficient.

Lucy reminds us- good instruction must be grounded in assessment.

Stayed tuned, in my next post I’ll answer questions from a follower and fellow literacy coach- Crystal from Hampton, VA:

1)   How do teachers discuss learning progressions across grade levels?

2)   What successes have you experienced with using student checklist?

3)   What is your role as coach in the process?

For more writing resources please visit my TpT store


  1. Thanks for responding! I can't wait to hear your answers. I also greatly enjoyed your thorough explanation of your writing process in this post. We have not adopted the Common Core (yet) in Virginia, but I see where these ideas are still applicable to our curriculum.

    Also, I have a blog as well. Feel free to stop by. I welcome your thoughts!

    - Crystal Midlik
    Hampton, VA

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