Tips for Tracking Student Writing Progress
Tracking student progress plays a vital role in effective teaching. It allows you to evaluate your instruction and make informed decisions about future lessons. For students, seeing their growth and how it relates to their overall goals can increase motivation and self-direction.
But how can you track progress toward a complex skill, like writing? Take a look at the tips and suggestions below to get started.
Use Consistent Rubrics
A rubric allows you to evaluate students on a number of objectives or categories that you find important. These might include broad categories like focus, organization, support, and conventions. Or you might focus on specific pieces of the essay, with categories for thesis statement, topic sentences, transitions, supporting details, commentary, conclusion, and so on.
Whatever categories you choose, consistently using the same rubric allows you to easily track student writing progress. With consistent rubrics, students are also able to clearly see their progression on the various objectives you’re assessing.
You may want to design a simple Excel spreadsheet to record students’ grades on each rubric category over time. Using this data, you can pinpoint student strengths and weaknesses, as well as which areas are showing steady improvement and which are not. This valuable information can inform your instruction for both the overall group and for each individual student.
Utilize Learning Goals and Scales
You can also help students track their own progress using learning goals and scales. Dr. Robert J. Marzano, a speaker, trainer, and educational researcher, emphasizes the importance of working toward a common goal in the classroom and using scales to track progress toward your goal.
Once you’ve set a learning goal (demonstrating a certain skill, achieving a specific score), you design a scale—typically from 1-4. A student who is at Level 3 should have reached the learning goal you’ve designed, while a student at level 4 can go above and beyond. Students at level 2 and level 1 need additional help in order to achieve mastery.
Clearly explain what each level of the scale “looks like.” What evidence suggests that a student is a level 4, 3, 2, or 1? Post this information somewhere students can easily access it, and periodically ask students to evaluate themselves according to the learning scale. This gives helpful information to both you and your students, and it keeps your class motivated and working toward a common purpose.
Ask Students to Set Goals
It can be even more meaningful to ask students to set their own goals. What do they want to achieve as writers? How will they know when they have accomplished this goal? What are some steps they might have to complete along the way?
Then ask students to track their progress toward their own specific goal, possibly with a scale they’ve designed or by completing occasional reflections. You can review this information to help you keep track of each students’ progress. You’ll also be able to provide resources and guidance to help them reach the goals they’ve set for themselves.
Have Students Keep a Portfolio
Although less quantifiable, a portfolio is a powerful way to visualize student progress. Have students keep each piece of writing in chronological order in a portfolio.
Over time, the portfolio should demonstrate a clear progression of writing skills. You (and your students) will be able to look back on writing from the very start of the school year and compare it to the writing your students produce near the end of the school year.
If you do grade using rubrics, students can also keep the rubrics in their portfolio, making their progression even more apparent.
Perhaps once a quarter, you can ask students to choose a favorite portfolio piece to polish into a final draft. They can keep both the original and the final draft in their portfolios, allowing them to see how their writing skills progress across multiple drafts as well.
Tracking student writing progress benefits you and your students because it:
- Helps you identify struggling students and specific areas of difficulty.
- Informs your writing instruction.
- Motivates students and gives them a clear goal to work towards.
- Gives you opportunities to celebrate success and improvement.
You can track your students’ progress using consistent rubrics, learning goals and scales, and portfolios. Make this process as student-driven as possible by asking them to create their own goals and keep track of their struggles and successes as well.
Your writing instruction will be more purposeful and effective, and your students will become better writers as a result.
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