writing lesson plans

Assessing Assessments

In the last few weeks, I have had two “away from school” interactions regarding the concept of assessments.  The first experience came while visiting a new gym. Prior to taking the complimentary class, I was asked to fill out a goal and health assessment. The instructor said the information would be used to help me plan an appropriate exercise program and chart my progress as I attend classes.

A few days later I was with my 13-month old granddaughter at an ophthalmology appointment.  After performing multiple tests, the doctor determined she needed glasses to strengthen one of her eyes. While making a two-month follow-up appointment, the doctor told us that we would check her progress based on the initial tests he had performed that day.

Teachers may find themselves overwhelmed with student assessments at the start of the school year.   We, at Write Now – Right Now, are often asked if we recommend that teachers have their students complete a writing assessment at the beginning of the year.  If you are debating this question, consider the following questions:

·       Is a baseline, or beginning of the year, writing assessment a requirement at your school? 

·       Do you have a reason or plan for using the assessment results?

·       Can you give the assessment in a reasonable amount of time?

The answers to these questions will help you answer the assessment question.  The following are some tips to make a beginning of the year writing assessment positive for both you and your students.

Determine the assessment’s purpose

Why are you giving the assessment?  Keep this purpose in mind through-out the process. 

A Note to Kindergarten Teachers:  You may choose to do the initial assessment when you believe your students are ready to begin writing instruction.  Consider when the purpose of the assessment will be most appropriate.

Standardize the assessment

This is especially important if you are working with a grade level team.  Prior to giving the assessment, choose a prompt for all students to follow, along with the time constraints provided.  Use or develop a standardized grade-level rubric.

Write a prompt which provides students guidance in what to write

Do you want students to write an expository or narrative piece?  We recommend providing an opinion prompt on a topic which students already know.  In this way, you will be able to assess students’ writing, not their knowledge on a subject area. Include in the directions the number of big ideas or details students should provide in their writing.

Provide enough time for most students to complete the writing task

Teachers give pre-assessments as an indication of skills students already possess.  In a writing assessment, it is not necessary for every student to complete the writing task.  When time is up, simply collect students’ writing.  It is helpful to note both students who rush to completion and those who will require extra time.

Record non-writing behaviors / trends

Do you have students who immediately break their pencil or go to the bathroom as soon you mention writing?  Are there students who stare into space the entire writing time, “thinking about what to write about?”  Do you have students who need constant feedback and reinforcement during the writing time?

Use the “piles” grading method

We recommend first reading each paper and then putting students’ initial writing samples in piles – Good Writing, Writing in Progress, and Need Extensive Help, or whatever category works for you.  As you read students’ work, put the papers in one of these three piles. Remember, you are assessing writing using end of year writing standards.  As these beginning of the year assessments are not used for a grade, this generalized assessment protocol will provide you with all the information you need.

Look for patterns

As you read students’ writing, do any patterns become evident?  Do students use a similar plan?  Are conventions an area of strength or concern?  Are students excited or reluctant to write?  Is student writing organized, did students stay on topic, etc?

Keep writing samples to show students later

We all need to see progress. Keep these initial writing samples to show students later in the year. We recommend showing them to students prior to a midyear writing assessment. It is encouraging for students to see where they have been and how far they have come as writers.

Teachers are busy people!  Taking a moment to assess your assessments, making them relevant, useful and efficient is time well spent.

Does Any Topic Sentence Work?

We are continuing to focus on informational writing in our classroom.  In order to give this writing context, we have been combining it with our History unit on Trappers and Traders.  We have used this content to review different non-fiction text structures and identify prompts which required us to respond in a specific text structure.  www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2018/informational-writing-text-structures-and-prompts-1  As we began to respond to the prompts, students were working to write appropriate topic sentences for each text structure.  This led to a discussion in our classroom – “Does every type of topic sentence work for every type of writing?”

Using the prompts from our study of text structures, we began to experiment with different topic sentence types.  I wanted the students to have a bank of topic sentences they could draw on when asked to write to a variety of informative writing prompts.  As we experimented and wrote informational essays, we collected topic sentences which worked well with each type of text structure.

Compare and Contrast Topic Sentences

Prompt:  Both trappers and traders were involved with trapping beavers.  Write an essay explaining two similarities between these people and two ways their lifestyles were different from one another.

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence

The trappers and traders who worked in the Colorado Territory had both similarities and differences in their lifestyles.

“When” Topic Sentence

When studying the trappers and traders of the early Colorado Territory, historians have found both similarities and differences between these two groups.

“Number Topic” Sentence

The trappers and traders who traveled to the Colorado Territory have many similarities and differences.

Compare and Contrast.jpg

 

Cause and Effect Topic Sentences

Prompt: Trappers came to the Colorado Territory in the early 1800’s. Write an informative essay explaining a positive and negative effect on the environment due to the arrival of the trappers.

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence

The trappers who came to the Colorado Territory had both a positive and negative impact on the natural environment.

“When” Topic Sentence

When the trappers arrived in the Colorado Territory, they had a positive and negative impact on the region’s environment.

“As” Topic Sentence

As historians study the history of Colorado, they have identified both the positive and negative effects on the environment caused by the arrival of the trappers.

 

Description Topic Sentences

Prompt: Trappers had a very distinctive appearance. Write an essay describing the unique clothing of these men.

Just Say It” Topic Sentence:

Trappers were easy to identify by their distinctive clothing choices.

“If” Topic Sentence

If spotted on the trail, an early beaver trapper was easy to identify by his clothing and appearance.

“Number” Topic Sentence

The requirements of living outdoors in rugged conditions led trappers to make many unique clothing choices.

 

Problem and Solution Topic Sentences

Prompt:  Once trappers had gathered beaver pelts, they needed a place to gather to trade. Write an essay explaining how trappers solved the problem of trading with others.

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence:

Determining a way to trade with others was a problem faced by many trappers.

As” Topic Sentence:

As trappers gathered their bounty of beaver skins, they were faced with a problem.  How could they sell their pelts and purchase items they needed for survival?

When” Topic Sentence:

When the beaver trapping season was completed, the trappers were faced with a dilemma.  How could they now trade their pelts and purchase supplies?

Question” Topic Sentence:

“Now that I have trapped these beavers and collected their pelts, how can I exchange this for needed money and supplies?”  This was a question posed by many trappers at the end of the trapping season.

 

Sequential Order Topic Sentences

Prompt: Trappers had to devise the best ways to trap beavers without harming the fur. Write an informative paragraph explaining the steps a trapper followed to capture a beaver.

 

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence:

In order to trap a beaver, the mountain man had to follow specific steps.

“Number” Topic Sentence:

Three steps must be followed in order to successfully trap beavers.

“If – Then” Topic Sentence:

If a mountain man wanted to be a successful beaver trapper, then he must follow specific steps in the correct order.

“As” Topic Sentence:

As men traveled to the Colorado Territory to trap beavers, they quickly learned the steps required to capture these animals.

Through our work with informational text, we have discovered that some types of topic sentences work best with certain text structures.  We have also learned a lot about the lives of the early trappers and traders!  Our fourth-grade writers have gained another tool they can use when writing informational text to a variety of prompts.

 

Informational Writing, Text Structures and Prompts

We have been transitioning from writing opinion to writing informative paragraphs.  As we began our study of informational writing, it was a natural time to review the different types of text structures. A text structure is how the author chooses to organize the information in his/her writing. To help us better understand each text structure, we created the following chart as a class.  We filled in the first three columns together. We listed the text structure, wrote a definition and then recorded signal words which would help us identify each text structure as we found it in text. The last column was left blank for future use.

Chart 1.jpg

While reading informational text, we practiced identifying the text structure used by the author. Highlighting clue words and justifying our choice of structure helped solidify our learning.

I now wanted students to stretch their thinking and practice writing informative text in a specific structure.  To begin this process, we needed to identify what structure was being asked for in a prompt. The students were ready for the next step; reading a prompt and determining the text structure they would need to use in response.

We returned to our chart. As we had been exploring trappers and traders in Social Studies, I chose that as the topic of the prompts the students would sort. To focus on the text structure required, I provided the students with five separate prompts. They now titled the final column in their chart Prompts.

Prompts.jpg

After reading each prompt, the students placed the prompt in the appropriate section on the chart. Students discussed their choices with partners, justifying their decision of which text structure to choose. When students reached an agreement, they glued the prompt in the appropriate row. 

Complete.jpg
The time spent on the chart proved invaluable.  We were ready for the next step – making plans and writing topic sentences!

The time spent on the chart proved invaluable.  We were ready for the next step – making plans and writing topic sentences!