Student Self Assessment with Writing and Strategy Groups

I don't know about you, but teaching and assessing writing is one of the hardest things we upper elementary teachers need to do.  We have students who still don't capitalize "I" and others and others who are ready to write literary essays with clear evidence, introductory clauses, and figurative language.  What's a writing teacher to do?

For me, using regular and QUICK demand prompts are a great way for me to accomplish a couple of goals (I love doing 8 minute prompts...we really stress writing "fluency"--and I expect them to be able to get enough writing done in 8 minutes to work with)...

1.  To keep a constant stream of formative assessment so I have an overall "feel" of my class as a whole.

2.  To take deficit areas to build minilessons.

3.  To help track specific data so I can pull strategy groups.

4.  To help students better understand what good writing is and to help them become more reflective about their own writing.

So  . . . last week, we did a writing prompt where I asked the students to reflect on the following five things.

I start off by having my students read through their piece with a colored pencil handy.  I ask them first to circle the first word of each sentence--and then we talk about what we notice.  In addition to recognizing whether or not we are using a variety of good sentence starters and transitions, we then use this time to check for end punctuation (circled in a new color) and capital letters.
 This is a good start...but then I had the students actually count the words in each sentence.  Why?  We have talked all year about creating a "rhythm" with our writing.  I like to use examples like this to explain what I mean:

I like ice cream,
It is cold.
There are lots of flavors.
You can use a cone or a bowl.
Ice cream is delicious.

Students always laugh a little when I read this aloud.  "We wrote like that in first grade!"  When I ask them WHY it "sounds" like first grade writing, they immediately tune in to the short, choppy sentences.  I give them some time to take those 5 sentences and improve them by adding details, sensory words, and so on.  They always create a piece of writing better than mine!  We then look to see if our sentences vary in length and structure or if it sounds "first grade" in their own mind.  Although we didn't do it this time, sometimes we then use this as the opportunity to revise our writing and make improvements.

We then worked ourselves through several more readings of our pieces, using different color pencils for each reading.  We circled descriptive words.  We underlined our topic sentences.  We checked for capitals on names and sentence beginnings.  We had some great discussions about what we noticed.
When I use these demand prompts for quick assessments, I use this simple rubric on the top to track student work.  A "3" means that I have complete confidence that they have control of a skill, a "2" means that they have partial control, a "1" means that they are experimenting with the skill, and a "0" means no evidence is present.  This is SO easy to track and to use to form strategy groups.

After assessing (and I really do "gut feeling" on these so I can get through my class relatively quickly), and I pick an area or two to pull strategy groups.  After doing the video game prompt, I had two strategy groups I wanted to work with--students who were not writing a topic sentence with quality descriptive details and a punctuation group for students who are still not "hearing" when end punctuation goes.  I keep a simple spreadsheet with this data and can look for growth and can easily look for my "0's" and "1's" in a given area.
Another way to use these demand prompts is to help students become more reflective about their own writing.  As you know, any time we ask students to assess their own work, the results are mixed.  But with that being said, the constant work with reading and discussing their writing, students get better and better at knowing what "grade level" work is and better at measuring their own work accordingly. you can see, we can get a lot of bang for our buck with short demand prompts.  8 minutes of writing--immeasurable teaching opportunities!  Want to try it?  I have a freebie example for you to try if you want...and then I have a bundle full of a BUNCH of other prompts, all with the same, easy-to-use rubric.  (Each of the sets in the bundle also is available separately.)  Just click the images to check them out!

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