Wendy's Writing Project Blog

Assessing Writers the Carl Way July 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — uiwpwendy @ 6:04 pm

Becca has been one of the many great inspirations from my uiwp experience this year. I glean something from her every time I have a conversation with her. I asked her to make my last book pick for me, and knew she would lead me in the right direction. She put me on the path to Carl Anderson’s Assessing Writers.

Part of the reason this book appealed to me is that I continue to struggle with a manageable way to assess my students in writing. I am comfortable with the actual conferences that I have with my students. I can always find strengths in their pieces, and have developed a knack for honing in on an appropriate teaching point. The management piece is where I fall short. I want to feel that I have a system that meets the needs of all of my students– that I’m taking time to assess regularly, using the notes I take when I confer, and check back in with students on their writing goals in a timely manner. I feel guilty that I don’t collect writing folders often enough. Anderson reminds us that “good teachers assess student writers– not the end product” that we’ve collected to mull over during plan time or at home after the dinner dishes are done.

Anderson’s book is not only full of his wisdom. He uses valuable charts, checklists, activities for professional development or book groups, student examples, and viniettes. This format allows plenty of choice as he guides educators to be better writing teachers.

Anderson identifies three qualities of a lifelong writer to be:
one who initiates writing,
one who writes well,
and one who has a writing process that is effective.

I implement a literacy structure in my classroom called The Daily 5/Daily CAFE. One component is to use a menu of reading goals in student learning of comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanded vocabulary. It has really helped my students to take ownership of their learning in reading. As I continue to read, I am going to be on the lookout for ways to develop a menu for writing around the three qualities of a good writer. This could encompass the vision I have for my writers that goes beyond what I evaluate students on for their progress reports.

Anderson mentions that Donald Graves would claim initiation to be most important of the three. Initiating writing shows an understanding that writing has power and purpose. Writers who initiate communicate ideas to others, write different genres, and understands that writing is meaningful. Anderson states that writers who initiate writing, write. They write for various purposes (to celebrate, testify, and other reasons.) They have a repertoire of genres (and the purpose of writing each). They write for real audiences. Anderson encourages teachers to observe their students. How do they use their time doing workshop? Do they plan? Do they have good writing habits= drafting, revising, editing? Do they share with others or the class? Do they make time for writing outside of workshop time? He offers an idea of having students use a table of contents in their writer’s notebook detailing date, title, genre, and who they have shared. This might help with accountability as well as one way to monitor their initiatives.

A writer who writes well is able to communicate effectively with an audience. Anderson mentions the importance to familiarize yourself with the different lists of qualities or traits that educators have created, quoting Murray and Culham (6 + 1 Traits). He defines writing well as communicating meaning, using genre knowledge, structuring writing, writing with detail, giving voice, and using conventions.

On writing process– Anderson notes the importance of having a process that works for an individual. How do we assess this? If a writer produces decent pieces time-and-time-again, he believes he or she has an effective writing process.

Carl Anderson offers information on each quality, examines linking assessment and instruction, and guides educators towards effective writing conferences. His book a valuable resource for anyone wishing to be a better writing teacher. I look forward to using the ideas it has given me this fall.


2 Responses to “Assessing Writers the Carl Way”

  1. Judith Pece Says:

    Wendy – I have a question for you. When your students write, what are you doing? Are you sitting at your desk? Are you walking around and helping students? I used to feel guilty about not giving as much feedback on the drafts as my teachers used to do, but then I realized that I am so familiar with what my students write that it’s okay for them to get most of their official formative feedback from their peers in writer’s circles, because I already knew what was going on in their writing worlds. The difficulty with this for me, of course, are those students who refuse to write during class time. How can I use what I see as they write, if I don’t see them write. So my question is: how do I help them to value the process as well as the product?

  2. uiwpwendy Says:

    Up until last year, I was able to use the entire writing workshop time for conferring and strategy groups. Last year I had to lead a reading group between conferring (which didn’t leave a lot of time and lessened the number of conferences I was able to do in a day). A common thirty minute enrichment/intervention block narrowed the window of core instructional time each day. The benefits of having that common intervention time outweighs the loss of instructional time. It is just difficult to find time to do everything.

    Those who refuse to write? Carl Anderson would probably question the effectiveness of their writing process. Maybe they don’t have a good system. If that isn’t the issue, he would encourage you to dig into the obstacles that prevent them from initiating. Maybe they just work better without potential distractions, and prefer a different setting. It they routinely turn in decent pieces, Anderson would argue that they’ve found a writing process that works well.

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