Assessment Criteria in Our Writing-Reading Workshop

Earlier this year, I wrote about my assessment plan for the year, one that involved assessing students without giving grades to individual assignments. If you haven’t read that first post, you can find it here. My school still uses traditional report cards, so in that post, I wrote about how we’ll determine students grades: during the self-assessment students do, they’ll determine the grade they think they deserve and collect evidence to justify this grade. Then, we will meet for an assessment conference to discuss their grades, along with their goals for the upcoming quarter. These conferences will take place about a week before the actual end of first quarter, giving me more time to prepare my teacher-evaluation for each student and getting them started working toward their goals a week earlier.

This initial post and the attached document outlined most of my plan except for the criteria we would use to determine grades. Deciding on the criteria to use was easy in writing, but it took a lot of thought for me to make my final decision in reading. My goal was to keep the list of criteria as short and simple as possible, meaning that if I wasn’t sure about including something, I chose to leave it off the first-quarter list. Below are the criteria I settled on for writing and reading.


Writing Criteria for 1st Quarter:

  • Productivity: Our workshop doesn’t have specific due dates for everyone, so students don’t all finish the same number of pieces. My baseline expectation is for students to complete at least three, but there’s flexibility with this, and I don’t think I’ll share this with them before they’ve done their self-assessments.
  • Process: Students will show evidence of their engagement in planning, revising, and editing, with specific focus on the last two. I’m not giving them any specific guidelines, but I want them to show a commitment to engaging in the process.
  • Purpose: Students will show evidence of choosing topics that matter to them and will show growth in topic choice from their first piece to their last. Later in the year we will also look at how students take advantage of publication opportunities inside and outside the classroom and how they write for specific purposes (e.g. writing a poem or memoir with a specific person in mind). Finding their own purposes for their writing and writing to be read by others are both major emphases in our workshop.
  • Use of Writing Mini-Lessons: This is the closest we come to grading the quality of students writing. I do ask students to assess the quality of their writing, identifying their best pieces and what makes those pieces the best, but we won’t grade the quality of their work. Instead, students will show evidence that they’ve taken the concepts from our mini-lessons and used them in their writing.

In later quarters, grades will also be based on the progress students make towards their goals as writers. Many of these goals will come from the areas described above, but students might also have goals in other areas, such as their contributions to our discussions of the mentor texts we read.


Reading Criteria for 1st Quarter:

  • Letter-Essays: Students write one letter-essay a month about a book they have recently finished. The letter-essays are based on what Nancie Atwell, and now her daughter Anne, have their students write at the Center for Teaching and Learning. This is a kind of writing that is brand new to most of my students, so when we assess these first quarter, we’re only looking to see if they have included the necessary elements and met the basic requirements.
  • Prep for Roundtable Discussions: These are whole-class discussions we have once a week (except when it’s that class’s letter-essay week). These are based on what Glenn Powers, also a teacher at CTL, does with his students as a way to include whole-class conversations in a room where students choose their books. Students’ prep for these discussions is the only type of writing we do where I give them a specific format to follow, so our first-quarter assessment is mostly looking at whether or not they’ve followed that format, with special focus on the examples students use to support their opinions.
  • Contributions to Roundtable Discussions: Here we are looking at what students share during the discussions and also the listening they do using the sheet they fill out while the discussions are happening.
  • Commitment to Reading Outside of Class: This isn’t a major factor in this quarter’s assessment (I’ll work with each student to create a goal in this area for second quarter), but I still want students to grade what they’ve done so far.


As I mentioned earlier, it was harder for me to make the final decision about the reading criteria. I thought about including criteria related to other important aspects of class, such as their choice of books, making recommendations to others, and keeping their reading record updated (not a nightly log but instead a list of the books they finish or abandon). However, I eventually decided against including these during first quarter. Students will still reflect on these things throughout the quarter and at the end, but they won’t be factored into their grades. Instead, we’ll use what they do first quarter as the basis for setting goals during second quarter.

One other note: I made the decision to not talk to students about these criteria yet. These are things that have been emphasized in class, students know what is expected, and they’ve been getting feedback in these areas, but if the goal of our assessment plan is to focus on grades as little as possible, I decided against going over these things with them ahead of time. In about a week and a half, I’ll introduce the criteria to students, and they’ll start the formal self-assessment process for the first time. I’m sure that will be a topic I’ll write about in a couple of weeks.


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