Student writing can be evaluated on five product factors: fluency, content, conventions, syntax, and vocabulary. Writing samples also should be assessed across a variety of purposes for writing to give a complete picture of a student's writing performance across different text structures and genres. These simple classroom help in identifying strengths and weaknesses, planning instruction, evaluating instructional activities, giving feedback, monitoring performance, and reporting progress.
Curriculum-based assessment must start with an inspection of the curriculum. Many writing curricula are based on a conceptual model that takes into account process, product, and purpose. This conceptual model, therefore, forms the framework for the simple assessment techniques that follow.
The diagnostic uses of assessment (determining the reasons for writing problems and the student's instructional needs) are best met by looking at the process of writing, i.e., the steps students go through and strategies they use as they work at writing. How much planning does the student do before he or she writes? Does she have a strategy for organizing ideas? What seem to be the obstacles to getting thoughts down on paper? How does the student attempt to spell words she does not know? Does the student reread what she has written? Does the student talk about or share her work with others as she is writing it? What kind of changes does the student make to her first draft?
In order to make instructionally relevant observations, the observer must work from a conceptual model of what the writing process should be. Educators have reached little consensus regarding the number of steps in the writing process. Writing experts have proposed as few as two (Elbow, 1981) and as many as nine (Frank, 1979). Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, and Stevens (1991) provided a model of a five-step writing process using the acronym POWER: Plan, Organize, Write, Edit, and Revise. Each step has its own substeps and strategies that become more sophisticated as the students become more mature as writers, accommodating their style to specific text structures and purposes of writing. Assessment of the writing process can be done through observation of students as they go through the steps of writing.
Having students assess their own writing process is also important for two reasons. First, self-assessment allows students an opportunity to observe and reflect on their own approach, drawing attention to important steps that may be overlooked. Second, self-assessment following a conceptual model like POWER is a means of internalizing an explicit strategy, allowing opportunities for the student to mentally rehearse the strategy steps. Figure 1 is a format for both self-observation and teacher observation of the writing process following the POWER strategy. Similar self-assessments or observation checklists could be constructed for other conceptual models of the writing process.
An effective writing process should lead to a successful product. A writing product fulfills its communicative intent if it is of appropriate length, is logical and coherent, and has a readable format. It is a pleasure to read if it is composed of well-constructed sentences and a rich variety of words that clearly convey the author's meaning. When various conceptual models of writing are compared side by side (Isaacson, 1984) five product variables seem to emerge: fluency, content, conventions, syntax, and vocabulary. Too often teachers focus their attention primarily on surface features of a student's composition related to the mechanical aspects of writing, or conventions. A balanced assessment should look at all five aspects of a student's writing. The following are simple methods for assessing each product variable. In some instances quantifiable measures are used; in others, qualitative assessments seem more appropriate.
In order to fulfill the communicative function of writing, the product must be readable. Writers are expected to follow the standard conventions of written English: correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar and legible handwriting. Consequently, even if the message is communicated, readers tend to be negatively predisposed to compositions that are not presentable in their form or appearance. Teachers traditionally have been more strongly influenced by length of paper, spelling, word usage, and appearance than by appropriateness of content or organization (Charney, 1984; Moran, 1982).
Being skilled is not just knowing how to perform some action but also knowing when to perform it and adapt it to varied circumstances (Resnick & Klopfer, 1989, p. 4). Being a skilled writer requires knowing how to employ the writing process across a range of writing tasks and adapt the process to the specific purpose for writing.
Assessment of writing skills, therefore, should take into account a variety of purposes and text structures. Purposes and genres to consider include: personal narrative (my trip to the state fair), story narrative, descriptive, explanation of a process (how to give your dog a bath), factual report, letter, compare-contrast (compare the Allegheny Mountains with the Rocky Mountains), and persuasive.
Simple curriculum-based assessments can be used to assess the writing process and products of students with learning disabilities, as well as take into account purpose. The assessments recommended in this article also adequately fulfill the purposes of assessment as discussed at the beginning of the article: identifying strengths and weaknesses, planning instruction to fit diagnosed needs, evaluating instructional activities, giving feedback, monitoring performance, and reporting progress. A teacher might use these methods at the beginning of the year to do a quick sizing-up of student instructional needs. The process checklist in Figure 1 gives the teacher important diagnostic information about the strategies a student does or does not use when writing.
A quick assessment of product variables from the first two or three writing assignments also gives the teacher important diagnostic information about skill strengths and weaknesses. The teacher then should use the initial assessment to identify instructional targets. Some students, for example, may do pretty well at planning their composition, but do little in the way of effective editing. Other students may have creative ideas, but need considerable work on conventions. Some students may do pretty well with writing stories, but need to learn how to write factual paragraphs.
Simple classroom-based methods also can be used to monitor student performance and report progress. Figure 6 is an assessment summary sheet that could be used to give a profile of a student's skills across a variety of writing purposes and genres. In an assessment portfolio the summary sheet would be accompanied by representative samples of a student's writing with both the student's and teacher's evaluations. After an initial assessment of student strengths and weakness across fluency, content, conventions, syntax, and vocabulary, the teacher would not necessarily need to monitor all the product factors, just those that focus on the student's greatest challenges and priority instructional objectives.
In conclusion, on-going assessment of writing is integral to effective teaching of writing. A teacher cannot make an appropriate instructional match between a student's skills and appropriate tasks without assessment. A teacher cannot ensure a student's success and make necessary adjustments in instruction without engaging in frequent assessment. Careful, thorough assessment of a student's writing requires that the teacher have a sound conceptual model of written expression taking into account process, product, and purpose.
Writing is often described as a linear process, moving from the first stage to the last stage in an orderly fashion. However, the writing process often requires moving back and forth between steps and is often more complex than the linear model represents. If you are working on a larger project you may have to break down the work into smaller parts to make it manageable; therefore you can be at different stages of the writing process in different parts of your project. You may also have to make changes in sections that you thought were finished as the contents are affected by what you write in other sections. Furthermore, new questions may arise along the way that will make it necessary to return to an earlier stage of the process, for example to do further research.
Doing thorough preparatory work is important for your writing and will save you a lot of time in the long run. It will help you keep your focus during the writing process. As your project progresses you may have to make some changes to your initial plan.
At the beginning of the writing process it is important to take time to create a timetable for writing in order to ensure that you will have a finished product when the assignment is due. When planning your time, take into account that the revising phase may take as much time as the initial writing, or perhaps even longer. This is in many ways similar to planning your studies in general.
Before you begin writing it is important to understand what is required of you. Interpreting the task is an essential part of the writing process as it will influence the quality and relevance of your writing. The guidelines for the assignment should give you information about the required length and format of your text, as well as some information about genre and structure.
You will have to choose a topic to write about, if one has not already been assigned. To choose a topic and get started with the writing process you can use invention techniques. Mind mapping or clustering and brainstorming are examples of invention techniques.
During the writing process you are likely to discover aspects that you were not aware of at the beginning, or the focus of your paper might become more refined or shift slightly. You can go back and rephrase the definition of your topic as well as the thesis statement or research questions as the writing progresses. 2b1af7f3a8