Assessment and Feedback for a Written Composition

The Teacher’s guide for level II of The Lost Tools of Writing has been demanding an inordinate amount of my time these past few weeks so it’s been difficult to enter any sort of a lengthy post in here (to the relief of many of you, I’m sure). In particular, I’ve been writing about assessment this week – inventing, ordering, reordering, drafting, reordering again, redrafting, inventing some more.

It’s such a huge issue, assessment is. To begin with, assessment is not the same thing as grading. In the guide for level II you’ll see a distinction between evaluating, correcting, and grading. Evaluating is on-going and done by multiple people: the writer himself, his peers, perhaps parents and others, and the teacher. Evaluation is far, far more important than grading. So is correcting.

One rather common practice that jumped out at me is the way teachers often wait until after the students have received their grades to have them do corrections. To me, that is unkind at best and seems to involve a loss of clarity on the teacher’s role.

Writing is a skill. The teacher, therefore, is a coach. As coach, the teacher looks good when his “athlete” performs well. The downside of this formula is that some teachers get mad at students for not doing well and use the grade to punish the students.

The upside is that the teacher who realizes her role as coach will coach and not manipulate or engage in other arbitrary, tyrannical behavior.

So rather than wait until the time arrives to grade students papers to tell the poor kids what they did wrong, the coach/teacher is instructing them every step of the way. It doesn’t take very long. Glance at their invention materials while they are working on them. 20 seconds would be more than enough to determine the quality of most inventions. 1 or 2 would assess the quantity just fine (depending on the quality of your glasses).

Students should receive ongoing feedback throughout the writing process. In my opinion, virtually every essay or narrative that students hand in should have been reviewed and challenged and corrected enough times that they will all score in the 90’s on the grading rubric.

So in level II we go into quite a bit of detail about how to go about assessing students work. Keep it objective. Assess virtues, not gifts (though you should certainly acknowledge the latter). Make sure your students understand your feedback, whether it be evaluation, correcting, or grading. Make sure the grade is no surprise. Make sure you don’t grade anything for which you haven’t prepared your students. Make sure both you and your students know what you are looking for when you assess.

All of these will prevent you from being that foolish coach who waited until his team lost the game before he told them how to play.

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