Updated: Feb 26
Last week my daughter, a college sophomore, called to tell me she had aced her English mid-term with a 3.9 out of 4. While she was pleased with her grade, she wanted to know what would have made it a 4.0. There were no comments or suggestions on the paper, so she approached the professor after class to get some oral feedback in order to know how to improve the next time. When the professor looked over her exam, she couldn’t really find any specific suggestions. She said, “I think what must have happened is that I graded your paper first and my expectations were higher at the beginning of the stack than at the end.” She ended up changing my daughter’s grade to a 4.0.
Of course, the teacher in me started reflecting on my daughter’s experience. My intent is not to be critical of the professor—we’ve probably all had the experience of changing our expectations as we’ve graded a stack of papers. Instead, my daughter’s experience brought two thoughts to mind.
The first is the importance of specific feedback to a learner’s growth. You may be familiar with the work of John Hattie. I often share with teachers the following quote:
“In a review of 180,000 studies involving 20-30 million students, of 100 factors that contribute to student achievement, providing learners with feedback rates in the very top 5-10% of influences. The feedback is especially powerful if the teacher helps the learner know: what progress he has made so far, where he is going, and what specific activities he can do next to progress toward the goal.”
Without feedback, learners are without a rudder. They don’t know what they are doing well in order to replicate their performance. Nor do they know how to improve their performance.
The second thought is the importance of scoring student work against a standard, rather than against the papers of other students in the stack. When we use a normed rubric, we increase the likelihood that all of the papers in the stack are being scored consistently.
Both of these are reasons why I am so happy that K-8 writing teachers now have a tool that can 1) help us give specific, targeted feedback to our writers and 2) help us align our teaching and students’ learning to benchmarked goals . If you teach writing and haven’t seen this tool yet, I highly encourage you to take a look. It’s called Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions K-8. I often tell teachers that since this tool was first published in 2013 (first as part of the Units of Study) and then published in 2014 as a stand alone resource, I feel as though a veil has been lifted off my face. Writing skills and expectations are so clearly broken down in this book, and that translates into clarity in our instruction and assessment.
Included in this resources are grade level rubrics, learning progressions for narrative, information, and argument writing, demonstration texts, illustrated student checklists, student exemplars, and more! As Lucy Calkins states, “These assessment tools make progress in writing as transparent, concrete, and obtainable as possible and put ownership for this progress into the hands of learners, allowing students and teachers to work toward a very clear image of what good writing entails.”
In some future blogposts I plan to highlight some of the gems in this book, but for now I encourage you to check out the free sample chapter here.