Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reflections & Understandings about Authentic Writing Assessment in the Common Core Writing Workshop    Block: Part 2

This is the second and final 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.

As you know, I have been super busy facilitating training in my district using the new Units of Study writing assessment tools from the Lucy Calkins Common Core Workshop Curriculum. The trainings consist of cycles of grade-level professional development using the new units of study writing assessment tools (which I might add- I adore!).

Since my last post, I've facilitated my elementary district in the first of several rounds of a data cycle looking at student writing across grades K-6.  We have analyzed and scored about 3,800 student assessments!  I've been a little pre-occupied by this and apologize for this late post. I think you can see by the photos below it's been a busy and productive assessment cycle!  I am so excited to share about it with you now before I begin the next round of writing assessment data cycle and lead our K-12 teachers in looking at writing samples of students headed for our county-wide writing celebration. 

If you recall from my last post, our district is looking at student writing in structured way based on a data cycle. We have used the Lucy Calkins Common Core Writing Workshop Curriculum and assessment tools to guide this work. 

 The assessment system includes: skill progressions (a Pre-K thru Grade 6 writing continuum), rubrics and student checklists. The learning progressions provide suggestions for teachers for possible teaching points to help students meet their goals.

The checklists and benchmark texts (student writing samples) spell out for children what it is they are aiming to reading. Because the learning progressions provide suggestions for ways to reach goals, and because benchmark texts (student writing samples) show how others have reached similar goals, children are able to see concrete examples and doable ways they can make their writing stronger.

Educational researchers (Sadler, Hattie, Reeves and Cororan) all agree when teachers provide students concrete, specific, and helpful feedback that clearly details.

 The system is designed to be used regularly to provide actionable feedback revealing what students can effectively produce when writing independently. This data along with a review of students’ on-going writing from sources like: students’ writing notebooks, writing folders and published pieces provides the teacher with what future instructional goals might be for the class, small groups and individual students. This along with observational records from student conferences and their writing process and workshop habits provide a more comprehensive picture of student writers.

The most amazing part of this system is that not only does it help children set goals and self-assess their progress. It helps teachers self-assess, set goals, collaborate with colleagues and work toward developing an articulated process of achieving those goals. That is powerful instruction!

Lucy reminds us…Teaching Well requires that you look at students’ work and imagine the next steps for that student.

Collaborating collectively with colleagues around student writing requires a structure. Therefore, our writing assessment cycle that integrates both formative and summative assessments. As part of the structure, teachers collected an independent “on-demand” writing sample from students in each of the three Common Core writing text types to establish baseline data then collected an on-demand again after teaching each writing text type. The striking thing about collecting pre and post instructional data is that it provides evidence of what students have learned to do without assistance.

 Here’s how it went… at the beginning of the year, specific prompts were given to students in each of the Common Core writing text types (CCSS W.1 Opinion Writing, CCSS W.2 Information/Expository Writing and CCSS W.3 Narrative Writing.) The grade level prompts were kept consistent across the grade levels K-6. In grades 3-6, the opinion and information writing prompts require giving students a day’s notice to locate and bring in outside research to include in their writing if they choose to do so. Prior notice is not necessary in grades K-2 or necessary for the narrative prompt grades K-6.

Students then receive writing instruction using the grade level writing curriculum developed by Lucy and colleagues.
Teachers meet after each unit of study to review students’ writing development in each Common Core text type using the assessment system developed by Lucy and friends.

Lucy reminds us that the purpose for all assessments is to accelerate learning. With that in mind, I developed a continuous formative assessment cycle using the units of study sessions as my guide. At the end of a grade level writing unit of study, teachers conduct another on-demand writing assessment (post on-demand) using the same prompt that was used at the beginning of the year. Then grade-level teachers come together district-wide to score, analyze student writing and discuss possible next instructional steps in writing based on the evidence revealed in the students’ pre and post writing. This process has been powerful! 

In my last post I promised to answer some questions from
fellow literacy coach- Crystal from Hampton, VA. So let’s get to it…

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

Teachers are released from instruction four times a year, after each unit of study, and come together as a grade level to learn the checklists, learning progressions and rubrics. Lucy refers to these as “norming meetings”. (To find out more, read Chapter 3 in Writing Pathways.)   At these grade level meetings, teachers  score student work together collaboratively after going through a calibration process using the assessment tools. At a later date at their sites, they meet in grade level teams to analyze the data using a data form and determine what trends they are seeing overall in their class’ data. Those trends or patterns help establish their next steps in mini-lessons and how they will adjust their teaching and expectations going forward.

2) What successes have you experienced using the checklists?

Student checklists have been extremely powerful in helping students self-assess and set goals. Students are provided with explicit instruction on how to effectively use the checklists to set goals at the beginning of each of new Common Core writing text type. Periodically, throughout the unit, teachers revisit the use of the checklist with students in whole group and small group instruction as well as individually. The checklists have provided our teachers with a scaffold to pinpoint and target writing goals for individuals when conferencing with students over student writing. They have created a structure of laser focus for both the teacher and the student to effectively monitor their progress.

Another place, checklists have been useful is during parent conferences. Using the checklists to establish expectations and set clear writing goals will provide structure to our conversations with parents. Checklists help clarify the trajectory we are setting for our student writers and can be used as a tool to enlist our parents as allies in our efforts to improve student writing.

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

My role as coach has been a dynamic one. As the lead literacy coach for the district, I worked with our assessment coordinator to establish a formative and summative assessment cycle that would compliment our writing instruction in the three Common Core Writing text types.  We have created the on-demand writing prompts for the three Common Core text types for each grade level K-6 using the materials from Writing Pathways as our guide. Additionally, I have facilitated both at the district and site level in this process of leading teachers in studying where their students are as writers and where they need to go. At the district level, I am responsible for helping coordinate the assessment cycle and provide professional development training about Common Core Writing and Reading. At the site level, I am responsible for modeling and co-teaching the writing units of study and reading as well as provide site literacy training and professional development.

Happy Writing!



  1. Wow! This looks like it was a fabulous learning experience for all involved. A lot of work, but definitely worth it I'm sure.

  2. We are using the Writing Pathways rubric and checklists in our district and it is NOT working! We find the rubric, even though long (4 pgs) does not provide the explicit feedback for our students. Any ideas??? Nor can we use our points system to score. Children are scoring very low and it is hard to see growth using these rubrics..Even though there is obvious growth being achieved. We are very discouraged.