Asset-Building Assessment: From Degrading Rubrics to Actionable Feedback Guides

When I was a junior in college, I did some part time work tutoring students in writing through my university’s literacy center. I was working with a ninth grade student, Allan, and he was concerned about how his writing ability was affecting his grade. As we we were getting to know one another, many of my questions focused on what his teacher expected from Allan and his classmates when it came to writing.

Me: So, your classmates are getting high marks, but you’re struggling. Does your teacher go over what he expects on your papers?

Allan: Well, he goes over the rubric and . . .

Me: Hang on. Rubric? What’s that?

Allan: It’s like, a thing… a paper my teacher gives us to tell us how we’re doing with our writing, what he expects, you know?

Me: . . .

That’s right, as a junior in college, this was the first time I was becoming aware of this measuring tool. Now, to be fair to my teachers up until that time, they were using clear assessment tools to evaluate my writing and give me feedback–I remember checklists full of writing features that my teachers would tick off as they each on in my papers, and at the end I would get a certain amount of points based on my performance. But this was the first time I had to pay attention because my student’s grade depended to what extent he could calibrate his writing to the rubric.

I helped Allan work his way to receiving top marks in his class according to the scoring guide his teacher gave the class. It was very satisfying to watch him succeed because of our collaboration, and one of the many formative experiences that lead me to pursuing a career in teaching ELA at the high school level. But, soon after I started teaching, assessing student writing according to rubrics nearly caused me to leave the profession.

Continue reading “Asset-Building Assessment: From Degrading Rubrics to Actionable Feedback Guides”

I Teach Revision on Day 2

When I was setting up my classroom for the 2018-2019 school year, I tweeted a picture of the only decoration I had up at the moment (see the featured image above). Moments later, Melissa-Ann Pero (@bshsmspero) thanks me for posting it, and says she’s going to make herself one.

A bit later on, she tweeted her creation, giving credit to Kelly Gallagher (@KellyGToGo) for RADaR and mentioning me in the process. And in my small Twitter world, the tweet caught fire. At the time of this writing, the post has been liked 305 times and retweeted 118 times!

See here:

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Get Your Students to Write OVER 20,000 Words This Year!

This year, I’m going to get my students to write over 20,000 words! And I’m not even counting the essays they are going to type.

At the start of the year, my students will begin building a Writer’s Notebook. This is a place the will house low-stakes, pressure-free writing, lessons on sentence craft, and a place where they will practice thinking through revision.

Here’s the English teacher math that came up with 20,000+ words:

  • 150 words per page
  • 5 pages of writing a week
  • 15 weeks of writing per semester

Continue reading “Get Your Students to Write OVER 20,000 Words This Year!”

My FREE Online Course: Why You Should Sign Up Today!

ELA teachers, when it comes to writing instruction, I have found no other method, tool, or program that has as much impact as The Writer’s Notebook. Yes, there are great strategies around every corner, many of which you and I are currently using in your classroom. But how would you like to amplify their effect, taking them further than you thought possible?

Here were my top pain points as a writing teacher:

  • Students would learn a writing lesson, but they were not applying it in their writing
  • Students were not transferring writing lessons from one assignment to the next
  • Students didn’t keep their learning organized, which made recall a challenge
  • I never felt like they were writing enough

==> I’M SURE YOUR STORY’S GREAT, BUT I WANT TO SIGN UP FOR THE COURSE RIGHT NOW!! <==

Before I really figured how to use The Writer’s Notebook with my students, my students weren’t retaining my writing lessons at a level that I found satisfying as a teacher. I worked really hard to create engaging lessons that held their interest, assuming that this method would have lasting impact on their writing habits. Although I did find there was incremental improvement in my impact on student achievement, I was still left unsatisfied.  Continue reading “My FREE Online Course: Why You Should Sign Up Today!”

5 Ways to Nudge Students to Engage with Outside Reading

My previous post gave 4 factors to persuade teachers to start giving outside reading assignments. I am sure, however, that you still have concerns about your students’ motivation to complete an assignment like this while avoiding the temptation to cut corners and cheat. I share in those concerns.

Over the years, though, I have come up with ways to steer students to complete their outside reading assignment faithfully. I still have to guard against apathy and students who insist on cutting corners instead of doing the work, but I have drastically reduced the amount of energy I spend on keeping watch over this behavior. And I would like to share these tips with you! Continue reading “5 Ways to Nudge Students to Engage with Outside Reading”

The Transformative Power of the Writer’s Notebook

Over the course of this past academic year, I tasked my students with writing 150 entries–at least 150 words per entry–in their Writer’s Notebooks. I assigned specific topics, theme-weeks, story starters, and a lot of free writing over the span of those entries. I collected their work every three weeks (calling these due dates “checkpoints”), checked up on their writing, and gave it right back so they could keep going.

For the final checkpoint, I was burnt out and recently spent almost all my energy grading big inquiry-based argumentative essays and co-creating a live action role playing game inspired by Fahrenheit 451 (This will definitely be a post later on). I didn’t plan anything special for their final submission, so it was unassigned free-writing. But I received quite a gift from a few of my students! On their final entries, many of my students decided to treat it like a yearbook and leave me notes of appreciation, some thanking me for making them do all that writing.

Don’t take it from me, let’s hear from Robert:
Continue reading “The Transformative Power of the Writer’s Notebook”

Kelly Gallagher’s Books Aren’t as User-Friendly as Teachers Think They Are

Has this ever happened to you when reading one of Kelly Gallagher’s books (or a book by another inspiring teacher-writer)? You read about a practice in his classroom, stare off into the distance, the look of epiphany on your face, and with a raised pointer finger you declare “I must start doing this today,” slam the book shut, and start typing up lesson plans. Now, let’s say you finish those lesson plans, does everything go smoothly in the classroom?

For me, it’s hit and miss. Sometimes the lessons are clear, and I can start using them right away. But some, for me, are complete bombs. The failures usually go like this: I hit an obstacle, I furiously flip the book to the spot where I had the epiphany in a desperate search for answers that aren’t there, panic, admit defeat, let the lesson die, sulk, move on. Continue reading “Kelly Gallagher’s Books Aren’t as User-Friendly as Teachers Think They Are”