One of my big take-aways from Overmeyer's book, What Student Writing Teaches Us, is the use of student self-assessment. I sometimes wonder if we reduce student independence by over-using rubrics and criteria charts and "constructive feedback." I often find that once we finish a draft, students expect me to do all the revising and editing of their work. Moving students toward being able to look back over their work and assess their strengths and weaknesses is a big goal of mine and this book gave me some tools and ideas for doing so. I particularly like his criteria list for assessing writing - a tool he created after finding that the point-based rubric he had been using wasn't quite working as a tool for improving writing. Since we want our kids to focus on certain characteristics of writing rather than what points go where, this strikes me as a fantastic choice. I'm going to try it out with the drafts we're working on in class now and see how it goes.
Now onto what it is sticking in my craw after reading this. Grades. I hate grading writing, especially so early in the year when we've only barely scratched the surface of exploring the world of it. But in a short 9 weeks - especially the first one that includes at least one week of getting to know each other activities, I'm supposed to have enough grades to put together for a marking period grade. Overmeyer's suggestion that we can grade the trajectory toward a standard was enlightening - although it is at odds with a lot of the other information we tend to get as teachers about what grades should entail. Quite frankly, I don't even want to grade the first few pieces of writing - I'd prefer giving qualitative feedback in the form of identifying strengths to build on and areas to focus on. I have so many kids who have such low confidence in themselves as writers that it's tempting to just hand out As like they are candy so they can feel at least one success in writing. But then, if we move toward grading that trajectory, and including effort, grading becomes so much more subjective (which is already is, especially in writing). I mean, I know what Student A's best effort looks like, which might look nothing like Student B's best effort. But how do I justify that grade? And as Overmeyer points out, kids biggest complaint about grading is fairness. Is it fair?