Monday, August 1, 2016

Writing and Rubrics

Today I want to talk more about how I teach and assess writing.  This past year, I worked on increasing the amount of writing by using a modified writers' workshop and having my students write in a writer's notebook.  Basically, this just meant that we wrote more often and we did a lot more writing activities to prepare for major pieces.  I found a lot of great ideas from this blog post by Jenna at Musings in the Middle-

This is an image from her blog that shows one page of a writer's notebook.  It is also TOTALLY worth it to watch her video, which I inserted below.  Please be clear that both of these resources, the image and video, are Jenna Smith's...not my own.

So, now that you have spent a little time with Jenna, let's get back to my classroom.  This year with my sixth graders, I made a lot of the brainstorming pages for narrative writing, including the one shown above.  This falls into the category of "list making" in the writer's notebook, and it is so helpful for the students.  I then would say something like, "Turn to your heart map and pick one topic to write about today."  We might write three different "quick-writes" from our heart maps, which we could later pull inspiration from for a longer narrative.  In this way, students get practice developing a number of ideas for the different types of writing- narrative, expository, and argumentative.

Once it is time to develop one topic for a full length essay, I have students refer to their quick writes, but I also have them do more traditional planning.  One example of this is to create an outline.  Again, I teach this step by step with an example from my own writing.  I go through the steps and then I have the students go through the steps.  I do.   I model for each step of the writing process.  Just like Jenna recommends, I write in front of the students.  It is worth it to be vulnerable and show them the process.  I also share rubrics with the students throughout the process.  I teach and grade based on the six traits of writing.  I often focus on a few of the traits in the rubric.

One of my favorite essays to teach is the literary analysis.  I do this essay with my 8th graders after their summer reading book, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry by Mildred Taylor.  I have them compare literary elements between Roll of Thunder and a supplementary text (like "Sympathy" by Paul Laurence Dunbar or "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" by Richard Wright).  Here is the rubric from that essay-
As you can see, this example of a rubric focuses more on the structure of the essay and lays out exactly what students should have in each paragraph.  

In contrast, here is a rubric for a narrative essay.  This one has three of the six traits highlighted- Ideas, Organization, and Word Choice.  I also almost always grade for conventions.  

I hope that this post helps to clarify how I teach and assess writing.  I'm also continuing to dig into Lucy Calkins's Writing Pathways which I got last year.  The rubrics are very specific and show multiple grade level expectations.  Here is a glimpse of the rubric for a sixth grade information writing assignment from that book.

Keep the conversation going by commenting below.  How do you use rubrics?  What methods do you prefer for teaching writing?  As always, happy planning!

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