6 Tips for Assessing Student Writing
6 Tips for Assessing Student Writing
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, March 20, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

Assigning grades to personal narratives and argument essays is a tricky and slightly subjective process that may not honor the development and vulnerability of the student who wrote them. It can be hard to put aside a focus on the technical elements of writing in favor of style, content, and storytelling, especially when each student details widely different experiences than his or her peers. But there are a few ways to assign and respond to student work that respect their creativity and openness while still furthering their development as effective communicators.

  • Give students some freedom with prompts. Be specific in the skills you want to see, such as dialogue or descriptive imagery, but allow students to exercise their minds when deciding what to write about. To avoid reading very similar papers again and again, make prompts vague enough to encourage personal reflection, but specific enough in outlining the technical elements being looked for.

  • Change up the audience. A lot of students write with one person in mind—the grader. Steering students to write for a specific audience can develop their storytelling and ability to communicate ideas to all types of readers.

  • Respect confidentiality. For many young writers, opening up can be a scary process. Students need to know that their voices will be heard and respected so that they can feel more comfortable with being vulnerable. Assure them that what goes on the paper stays on the paper, unless you are given permission otherwise.

  • Don’t grade every assignment. The pressure of a grade lingers on every piece of writing a student hands in. But allowing them to keep a personal journal for daily prompts or letting their peers look at their work relieves some of that pressure and lets them focus on development for their own sake. Putting together a portfolio of sorts can show individual growth better than disconnected assignments that never resurface.

  • Edit with concern for the story, not the technicalities. Of course, marking grammar, spelling, and structural issues is important in showing students how to write in a more organized and effective manner—but prioritizing that over the content of the story will not make them better writers. Addressing the reasoning behind plot points or descriptions of characters shows students that their story has potential beyond misspelled words and missing punctuation.

  • Be flexible and open to discussion. Sharing with students the reasoning behind your comments or possibilities for improvement recognizes their ability to create without limiting them to what’s already been written. If they feel that their papers are graded unfairly, hear them out. Storytelling will never be a cut-and-dried process, and all learners develop their own unique voices at different paces and in different ways.