Assessing Student Writing: Examples, Tools & Methods Video

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  • 0:00 What is Assessment?
  • 2:20 Step One: Use a Rubric
  • 2:50 Step Two: Leave Comments
  • 4:15 Step Three: Stay Positive
  • 4:45 Step Four: Discuss Concerns
  • 5:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

When reviewing a student's essay, you should offer an assessment of the writing to help students develop as writers. In this lesson, we will review the tools and methods used to assess a student's paper.

What Is Assessment?

This is Mr. Smith, a new English instructor. He is preparing his class for their first writing assignment. After spending weeks working through the writing process with them, the students have now submitted their final drafts. He is ready to grade his first paper, but how can he do this successfully? How can Mr. Smith be sure that he is giving constructive feedback? What steps should he take to be sure he is assessing his students' writings correctly?

When grading a student's paper, an instructor is doing more than giving a grade. Mr. Smith is assessing, or gathering information about his students and their writing. Through their papers, he is able to see how his students are developing as writers and what changes he needs to make in his teaching. He is able to give his students feedback on their writing which is one the best ways a writer can grow.

In this lesson, we will discuss how you can assess your students' writings, including the steps you should take before, during, and after grading.

Preparing an Assignment

Before you begin to grade a paper, you first must provide a clear assignment to your students. Your students should know what their paper should include and the overall goal of the writing. As part of this, you should work through the whole writing process with them.

Assessment really begins in the first stage of writing. By working with your students in class, they will be able to see how they are progressing, what changes are needed, and how their paper will be evaluated when finished.

Let's go back to Mr. Smith for a minute. In his class, he is assigning the essay a narrative. As part of this assignment, he first discusses with the class exactly what a narrative includes, the topics from which they may choose, and what stages they should take to plan for the paper.

Next, he meets with each student one-on-one to see how the paper is progressing and offers any feedback, keeping his goal for the essay clear to the students. Finally, before he collects the final paper, he makes sure that each of the students has a copy of the rubric to be sure that he/she knows how the paper will be graded.

By taking these early steps, Mr. Smith is making sure that the students are prepared for assessment. The instructions for the assignment are clear. He meets with them to observe any progress and makes sure that a rubric is developed and followed.

Now, let's take a look at the different steps you will take to assess student writing.

Step One: Use a Rubric

The first step to assessing a student's writing is to have a rubric, or scoring tool. The rubric will assign values to the different components of the essay. For example, there may be a section on thesis, one on supporting details, one on evidence, and then one on mechanics.

For each category in the rubric, there should be an explanation of what the section should include and the score value given to the section. Use the rubric as your grade and reference it on the paper, too.

Step Two: Leave Comments

Second, as you read, leave constructive comments for the students. There are several ways you can leave constructive comments:

  • Always be specific. You do not just want to say that the details are confusing; explain why. You also want to give the students several different options for a concern that you may have.
  • Do not overwhelm the student with long comments. Rather, make short comments or questions on the draft, and then write a summary at the end of the paper with more explanation and suggestions. Too many comments can discourage a new writer, so just look for the areas that really need improvement on the paper. At the end of the essay, you will want to leave a much more thorough review of the paper and your suggestions.
  • Be sure that you also note the strengths, not just the weaknesses. Students need encouragement. If you see a writing skill that is being done well, tell the student. He/she can continue to use this skill for future essays.
  • Focus on the content first. Try to just read the essay through once before you begin commenting. Then, focus on making comments about the content itself before you begin to look at the organization and style of the paper.
  • Do not just proofread or edit the paper. In fact, do not mark too many errors. This can be frustrating for a new writer. Instead, mark a common error that you see, explain why it is an error and how to resolve it. Make sure to tell the student that this mistake had been made several times in the paper and ask him/her to revisit the writing for it.

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