Empowering Students Through Self-Assessment of the Writing Process

Sandy is busily writing the first draft of her personal narrative in 7th grade language arts. Ten minutes into writing, she looks up at her teacher and announces, “Done!”

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? In all my years of teaching writing, the one hurdle I found most difficult to leap over was convincing students to revise their drafts several times before considering it “done.” That meant sitting with the student, asking questions to push their thinking, trying to convince them that they could actually do more. But no matter how I phrased it, most students didn’t seem to understand how to self-edit and rework their own rough drafts.

Then along came learning progressions. 

In our writing workshops, we use the tried and true one-point rubric (a rubric that shares the success criteria for each genre with students) to assess work. But for anything that is a life skill or a 21st century skill — such as communication, time management, or organization — a learning progression works much better. Learning progressions show students the step-by-step process they need to take in order to improve and reach their goals. (I’ve learned about these from Tyler Rabin and Shannon Schinkel, who have been incredibly generous in sharing their work. I highly recommend following both of them on Twitter.)

In our school, although we explicitly teach students how to organize their writing and how to find weak points and revise them, we had never specifically shared the success criteria for the writing process itself. 

One day in a Twitter chat, Shannon Schindel shared a learning progression about the writing process that made complete sense to me. Through the progression, students can understand exactly the type of actions they need to take in order to improve their writing. This way, students begin to see that the quality of their final draft hinges on their ability to improve and refine that draft from start to finish. Her rubric deals with the entire writing process from brainstorming all the way through to revision and editing. Because, in our school, we have students self-assess their learning process on each draft that they produce, we took Shannon Schinkel’s idea and tweaked it so that there is a different progression for rough drafts, another one for second and third drafts, and finally one for final drafts. 

How to Use Learning Progressions to Assess Each Step of the Writing Process

This is what our generic second draft learning progression looks like. It lays out what we expect students to be doing as they become better at revision:

Click on the rubric to see our entire learning progression. Feel free to grab it and tweak it for your own use.

Students assess themselves against the criteria and then reflect on their “glows” (strengths) and “grows” (areas to improve on). Teachers tweak the progression, using the criteria needed for the genre students are working on. For example, if students are working on an essay, their teacher would remove criteria that have to do with narrative writing, such as “Broadening character development,” and include new criteria on, for instance, research and citations.

What Learning Progressions Look Like in Practice

Let’s go back to the scenario that started this piece. Christina, our 7th grade language arts teacher, walked over to the student who said, “Done!” and handed her a copy of the writing process progression for the first draft of her piece:

Christina simply asked the student to look at the rubric and see how she would assess herself on the writing process. The student read through the rubric and said, “Oh! I’d be at the start: access point.”

Christina nodded and agreed. 

The student read through the criteria again and said, “Can I keep going?” 

Christina said, “Of course. Remember we’ll be working on this in class for several days,” and the student kept working. Christina was thrilled. She said this is the first time in her years of teaching that she didn’t have to try to persuade students to keep working on their first drafts. By self-assessing the students were able to draw their own conclusions and make a decision to improve.

On the other end of the secondary spectrum, we have Omaura, our 12th grade language arts teacher. She also began using the writing process progression with her students. She had them working on analyzing vignettes for V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Each student was given a different vignette, which helped ensure that they worked independently, but also allowed Omaura to differentiate for ability. She said that for the first time, all her students made deep revisions as they worked. She felt that having success criteria clearly laid out for them helped them understand what the writing process actually entailed. 

Given their vignettes, students brainstormed before writing their analysis:

Then they were asked to create their own learning targets:

And finally, after writing their final draft of the analysis, they self-assessed and reflected on their process:

How Learning Progressions Have Improved Our Classrooms

It’s become clear to us that in previous years, we constantly told students to “reread their work” and “revise on their own” before handing in drafts, but only a handful of kids did so. It was easy to jump to the conclusion that most of our students were “lazy” and didn’t want to put in the effort it took to produce a strong draft. However, after giving them the writing process progressions, we now realize that most of our students just didn’t know what drafting a writing piece really meant. By giving them clear success criteria, we’ve empowered them to become stronger writers. 

My deepest gratitude to Tyler and Shannon for setting us on this path!

To read more of Shannon’s work go to her blog, My Growth Mindset and connect with her on Twitter @DramaQueenBRC

Tyler’s work can be found at Teacher Totter and his Twitter handle is @Mr_Rablin

Follow them – you won’t regret it!!


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