Assessing students in your K-2 writing workshop can be frustrating… but it doesn’t have to be! Teaching writing used to be frustrating to me because all of my students were writing about various topics, with various abilities, and various ways of calling my name for the 18th time during that lesson! I finally figured out what was missing, and from there… it has been smooth sailing! In this post, we will zoom in and focus on how to assess writing. It doesn’t have to be so hard!
How to Assess your Students’ Writing
For me, assessing K-2 students’ writing in writing workshop comes down to a few things: what did I teach, model, and expect? If we want to get to the true point of assessing (which is that students learned from us) then, it’s critical to be clear about what we should expect. In my classroom, assessment happens in two different cycles during any given unit.
I think of them on two different tracks: Track one is a more general, over-arching method of assessment. That’s going to include things like rubrics and checklists. Those are for me. I am the teacher, I know where we need to be. Before I begin teaching, I know exactly what standards and learning outcomes I am working towards, and I use those tools for my own grading needs. This kind of assessment may not happen daily, but rather over the course of the unit. This may also be what I use to grade a final piece of writing. Below are some examples. Notice that they are broad, connected to standards that need to be mastered, and not kid-friendly.
The trick here is to identify the standards that your school/district has deemed critical and “assess the mess” out of those. We cannot teach every single standard to mastery- it’s impossible! What most schools do is identify some critical standards that they will commit to getting each student to mastery- and then from there, the other standards can provide direction on where to go if your students master the critical standards. So, think about which standards are going to give you the most bang for your buck.
And, furthermore, if I am overwhelmed with writing instruction already, the last thing I need is a 30 page-PDF download full of wordy rubrics to use for grading! We are professionals! We have (or will develop with time and attention) a pulse on which students are writing well and which students need support. Use a streamlined, standards-based rubric to get a handle on what you see students doing and let that be enough. It doesn’t have to be that difficult. Clear goals, full rubrics, can’t lose.
K-2 Writing Mini-Lesson Assessments
The second track connects to a daily learning target. Learning targets should be measurable. By the end of a lesson, you should be able to say exactly who “got it” and who still needs some work with the concept. For a long time, I thought that this didn’t apply to writing because the writing was product-based. It wasn’t like math or spelling where I could ask them to solve a problem or show a few words with the same word pattern at the end of the lesson and track their progress. For writing, I felt that I could only use a checklist or rubric.
But what about my daily teaching points for writing? How was I to know if any of those lessons stuck?
It wasn’t enough for me to just rest in the fact that they’d add my teaching point to their toolbelt of writing strategies. If I teach a lesson, I need to know what stuck. I began to use daily quick checks in writing! I have used quick checks in every other subject but didn’t think it applied to writing. But… it does! I’ll show you how. I always have the unit learning outcomes in mind, and then from there- the daily teaching point.
Daily Quick Checks in K-2 WRITING
I’m going to show you a few examples of some lessons that I’ve taught along with the corresponding quick checks. In my writing workshop, we have a quick mini-lesson designed to move students closer to the learning goals and standards. Then, the students are asked to demonstrate their understanding of that strategy or lesson with a quick check. This is my daily pulse on their understanding of the specific teaching point. Below is an example from my Persuasive Writing Unit. In this lesson, we are talking about the power of including facts in your writing to help persuade others.
After teaching from these slides and providing some solid modeling, like anything else I teach, I would like to get a handle on which students understood the concept. That’s where the quick check comes in. These quick checks are supposed to take less than 5 minutes to complete and by the end of the lesson, I know exactly who needs more support. Students complete these quick checks before they go off to independent writing and after the minilesson.
All of my writing units contain 20 lessons and each of them has an accompanying quick check. This allows me to assess my young writers on the actual teaching for that day. I have tons of evidence to support where students were successful or struggled along the way as they are writing. Now… remember, this only works if you have a specific and measurable teaching point for the day! If your writing target says something like, “I can print clearly” every day for the duration of your writing unit, then this won’t be something you’ll be able to do. But, if each day includes a measurable and specific target (and I hope they do!) then you should be able to give students a quick check.
It makes for a much smoother jump to the over-arching unit rubrics because I’ve had my thumb on everyone’s progress every step of the way! For example, I wouldn’t be surpised at the end of the unit when 5 students didn’t use any facts in their persuasive pieces if they weren’t able to master that on the quick checks for that skill. I would have seen that those 5 students didn’t quite grasp the idea of facts earlier on and would have met with them to make sure they were where they needed to be.
To summarize Assessing K-2 Students’ Writing in Writing Workshop:
a) Ease up on yourself when it comes to assessing writing. We want to produce writers who can WRITE. We want them to independently produce quality pieces of writing… so you don’t need to assess every writing standard under the sun!
b) Narrow down on critical standards and assess those as your overarching unit goals.
c) Assess your minilesson content just as you would with any other skill. Ask the students to quickly show evidence of the teaching point for that day.