Danielle K. Yoka
What are some effective strategies for writing evaluation?
Unfortunately, there exists no full-proof plan for evaluating student writing. I, however, have researched several different methods for assessing writing skill, ability and improvement. These strategies vary from very specific marking techniques to broader approaches to evaluation. The following methods are ones that I found to have value at almost any stage, genre or ability level of writing in the secondary school.
Limited and Positive Commentary
Most of the research I discovered encourages teachers to tell students what they liked about the paper and to choose one of two specific points for the students to improve on: ìTry to use active voice.î ìUse more descriptive languageî (Allender, p. 80). This type of limited commentary appears less daunting than a paper full of red ink and allows the student to focus on a few specific ways to advance his/her writing. By emphasizing only two specifics, the student can more completely understand their errors or weaknesses and this concentration can foster ìreal learning.î
Additionally, correcting every single grammatical error or misspelling is a too directive response to a student paper. By pinpointing every mistake and telling the students how to ìfixî it, the teacher unintentionally may encourage students to simply copy quick ìfixesî. Correcting every fault for the student inhibits the student from learning the preferred structure and internalizing it. Furthermore, if the student copies the teacherís directives, he/she loses ownership of the paper. The revised paper may have the ìproperî structures but it is no longer in the voice of the student (Allender, p. 81).
Positive comments also give students a push to ìbetterî their own work. Instead of copying ìfixesî, the student considers the comments and can feel good about their strengths. Evaluation should be finding value in a piece of writing. By finding a strength, a student might be motivated to work with his/her own ability and advance it. Writing should always be moving forward and positive suggestions and ideas help validate the studentís sense of worth as a writer.
Revision is the key to becoming a better writer. By allowing students to rewrite papers, the teacher enables the student to be in control of his/her own progress.
ìWith its call for several drafts of a paper, each stronger
in content and cosmetics than its predecessor, [revision]
provides multiple opportunities not only for teaching and
learning but also for practicing and internalizing what goes
into an ìacceptable piece, including organization, sound
sentences, and conventional spelling.î (Reising, p.71)
Although this quote can be viewed as over-emphasizing structure, Reising clarifies the purpose of writing. It allows students the ìopportunityî to improve their own writing. Effective writing is a skill and needs time to progress. According to J. Hervey , a teacher at Pinkerton Academy, students should write and rewrite as much as possible, revising rather than recopying. It is crucial for the students to know they are improving (Allender, p.82).
Under the broad umbrella of revision, I found self-evaluation and individual goal setting, peer-evaluation, and portfolios to be effective methods of assessing student writing.
Self-evaluation and Individual Goal Setting
In self-evaluation and goal setting, students comment on their own writing and establish plans for changing or advancing their writing style. ìMany teachers have found this sort of procedure helpful to use early in the school year because it leads toward greater self reliance and independenceî (Cooper & Odell, p. 142). With these structures, the writing is the studentís own work and the motivation to improve comes from within the individual.
Self-evaluation, however, is a skill that must be taught to the students. And most importantly, students need to consider themselves writers and learn to reflect on their own work (Hansen, p.194). In order to look at their work critically, students need to read and read and read. They learn from their previous work, the work of classmates and from published writing. In Cooper and Odellís book (p.143), they suggest providing the student with a sheet of questions about their work. (e.g. How much time did you spend on this paper? What are your strengths/weakness? What would you like to improve on in your next piece?)
In advocating goal setting, teachers place the focus on the individual student. Consulting the teacher and peers, the student makes plans for how he/she will improve his/her next piece of writing.
ìWe have moved beyond the simple thought that
students need to choose their topics to a belief that
they need to work consciously on becoming better
writers. . .Choice of goals, topic and genre all place
students at the best advantage to use self-evaluation
to advance their writing skillsî (Hansen, p.8).
Self-evaluation and goal setting place the writer at the center of the creative process, the revision and the assessment of the writing. Additionally, it enables the student to advance at his/her own pace and ability level. With these methods, all students are able to advance their individual writing ability.
In peer evaluation, students look to one another as resources and guides to improve their writing. Like teachers, students should pick out what they liked about the writing and as in self-evaluation, question sheets can be helpful in leading the students in evaluating their classmatesí papers. Teachers can also provide the students with two or three objectives to focus in on while reading. These two strategies help keep the comments relevant and positive. (Unmonitored peer evaluation can sometimes lead to embarrassment or hurt feelings (Liftig, p.62).)
With a partner or in small groups, students can share their work and find a ìrealî audience for their writing. Receiving varied interpretations, students can learn what sections of their writing are strong and what may be unclear or misrepresented. The peer responses act as a general measure of the extent to which an audience validates an authorís aims. Peer evaluation is an ìauthentic writing task and places it within a social context that is ideal for the writing classroomî (Liftig, p. 65).
Finding many different forms of portfolio assessment, I have drawn from various models to create what I find to be the most effective type of portfolio. To begin, no writing evaluated prior to the portfolio will be given a graded. Feedback will be provided and a check will be given for each revision that is evaluated by myself, the individual or classmate (or even a parent). I will provide time for all-class and small group workshops, so that the students can gain as wide an audience as possible. Rewriting, with the help of reader responses, gives the student the opportunity to make it the ìbestî paper possible for the individual student.
After a specified amount of time and assignments, the students compile self-selected portfolios intended to demonstrate their development as a writer or their best skills and talents in a variety of genres (Allender, p.80). Each student also composes a letter, explaining his/her choices and writing progress.
One teacher stated that if a student did not put much effort into revision, he would not accept it (Allender, p. 82). A student who hands in what would traditionally be an ìAî paper may only receive a ìCî if he/she shows no documentation (revisions, comment sheets, etc.) of progress. Whereas, a student whose portfolio choice may not be as good as the formerís first draft, may receive a higher grade if he/she shows marked progress. (i.e. The student meets or surpasses his/her individual goals). According to the teacher, referenced above, this system allows students to work at their own ability levels, competing only with themselves.
After this research, I have no definite answer on how to evaluate students but I have found several options that could be effectively used in the high school classroom. I also realized that the purpose of evaluation is to find ìvalueî in a studentís work. Every student has the potential to be a good writer. And as an evaluator, I should use my position not to ìcorrectî errors but to stimulate further writing, and further writing can lead to further writing advancement.
Allender, Marian. ìGrading and Evaluation in the Reading/Writing Workshop.î English Journal v81. Oct. 1992, P. 80-82.
Cooper, Charles & Odell, Lee (Ed.). Evaluating Writing. National Council of Teachers of English: Buffalo, 1977.
Hansen, Jane. ìEvaluation: The Center of Writing Instruction.î Reading Teacher v50. Nov 1996, p.188-195.
Judine, M, Sr. A Guide For Evaluating Student Composition. National Council of Teachers of English: Illinois, 1965.
Liftig, Robert A. ìFeeling Good about student Writing: Validation in Peer Evaluation.î English Journal v79. Feb. 1990, p. 62-65.
Reising, Bob. ìWhatís new in . . . The Formative Assessment of Writing.î Clearing House v71. Nov. 1997, p. 71-72.