How can you involve students in gradingfor writers workshop?
Even as adults, we profit from having a clear idea of what is expected of us in a given task. This is certainly no less true of our students. By far, one of the most effective techniques I have found for increasing the quality of my students’ writing in preparation for our state writing exam has been to involve them directly in the grading process. We have state-created rubrics that cover four writing traits: ideas and content, organization, voice, and conventions.
As my students come to me in fifth grade, they are already familiar with the language of the traits. I build upon that knowledge by having them rewrite those traits in language that they are most comfortable with. These posters that we create then hang in our room as a constant reminder of what they should aim to achieve. The next step, as we study and practice each trait, is to provide them with actual student writing samples, which I put on the overhead projector. We then go through the writing from beginning to end, critiquing and discussing in detail what the writer has done well, and what he/she needs to focus on in order to improve. In addition to our student created trait posters, each student has a copy of the rubric used by the assessors for our state writing exam. The conversations the students engage in are music to a teacher’s ears! They gain a depth of understanding for each of the traits and use the language effectively as they discuss the merits and shortcomings of each piece. This transfers directly to their own writing. I have never found another method that more powerfully affects the improvement of writing directly related to a specific trait.
It can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming to see a stack of papers from a classroom writing assignment that are waiting to be graded. How do you determine an “A” paper from a “C” paper, ensuring that the grades are fair and equitable? Many of us have had the experience of a student coming up to our desk asking why they received a lower grade than their friend whose paper seems to be so similar. One way to avoid this is to create a rubric specific to the assigned task. I have successfully done this in my own classroom many times by specifically enlisting the help of my students. We discuss the assignment and agree on the criteria for earning an “A, B, or C.” For example, if the assignment is tied to a content area, we determine exactly how many pieces of content are knowledge should be included in order to earn the highest grade. We also include relevant benchmarks from the state writing rubric, so that each student knows exactly what they need to do to receive the best grade possible. In the beginning this process may take a little time, but I feel it is definitely time well spent.
Each time you do it, it becomes easier and quicker. When the assignments have all been turned in, you can then put a few of the papers, with student’s permission, on the overhead and have the students help you to assign a creditable grade. This goes a long way in giving them ownership and responsibility for their own work.
The rubrics used for grading can be created by you and your class from scratch, or if you prefer you may want to refer to the RubiStar website for some wonderful templates. Either way, rubrics make grading quicker, easier, and more equitable for students.