Writing: Big Ideas
Instruction and assessment are inextricably related in the classroom. The current emphasis on standardized testing (e.g., state testing or PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing for the Common Core standards) has left many teachers wondering how they have time to incorporate their own assessments into classroom instruction. In contrast to yearly standardized testing, assessing student writing during a course of study not only informs teachers of what and how students are learning, but provides important information on the need to review, revise, or elaborate on instruction. Formative assessment throughout a unit of study allows students to demonstrate what they are learning and informs teachers of what else they need to do. Summative assessment at the end of a unit provides students with opportunities to demonstrate a greater depth and breadth of their understanding on a topic they have studied.
Effective assessment requires teachers to ask three essential questions: 1) What do I want to know about each student’s learning? 2) How will I know this? In other words, what form of assessment will provide this information? 3) How will I use the results to plan subsequent instruction? These questions should be addressed initially as teachers plan their units.
Assessing students’ writing is often considered easier than assessing their reading comprehension because writing is visible. However, an assessment of writing needs to consider the thinking behind the writing, possible misconceptions, and potential roadblocks to future understanding that may occur over a unit of study. It should be noted that students who are still learning a language may experience challenges in representing the depth of their thinking and knowledge in the new language; teachers should consider this when assessing the writing of ELL students. Teacher-designed writing assessments focus on both content and writing craft, addressing the goals, essential questions, and purposes of what students are expected to learn. They also should reflect the individual strengths and needs of students, leading to the identification of specific practices to move students forward in their writing. They need to be authentic, reflecting both the processes and products of learning, and revealing students’ strengths as well as needs.