Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 2: Assessment

Writing assessment involves deep judgment that requires complex thinking and diverse experience. But informed as writing assessment may be, it is human judgment, replete with the assessor's inclinations and biases.
To ensure that my evaluation is as objective as possible in a subjective discipline, I adhere to these principles:
  • Evaluate writing from both formative and summative perspectives. Formative evaluation calls for me to evaluate writers from where they are; summative evaluation calls for me to evaluate the quality of the writing.
  • Evaluate for a standard and consistent skill set. I assess based on four general areas--purposefulness, completeness, organization, and style--each of which encompasses a range of subordinate skills.
  • Use a sensible rubric for assessing writing. A scale of 1 to 10 is not helpful because I know of no one who uses the entire scale. The letter grade system is for the academic world. I use a qualitative assessment that gives the writer a clear signal: strong, needs improvement, etc.  
  • Assess writing over a number of assignments. Let's say writers do poorly on a proposal. Assigning an analytical report or instructional message that the same writers complete successfully may suggest that they are otherwise good writers who are just learning how to write a proposal.
  • Determine what to teach based on the writing assessment. I readily break from my game plan if the writing quality shows that I should. For instance, is the next topic is organization and the writing is showing tone problems, then tone moves into the agenda.
  • Make the assessment positive. Realizing that people build on their weaknesses by using their strengths, I show writers those strengths as building blocks toward improvement.
  • Suggest behaviors that can improve the writer. People learn to write better by writing more, but they also need to read more. I suggest books, articles, and websites to help them improve.