Hope sent this:
Hi Ben,
Corinne suggested you would have insight to grading free-writes. What are your thoughts?
Hi Hope:
I learned about bar graphing from Carmen via the moretprs listserve some years ago. We all took what we wanted from that discussion (around 2004 – you might search the list for some of those posts). So what does it look like in my classroom?
I keep it really simple. The kids make a bar graph in the back of their composition books. Each time they do a freewrite (my goal is two per week this year), they immediately count the words they wrote and graph it and date it. The bar naturally goes up over time.
I have second year kids writing pages of words now. What an opportunity for them to experience that feeling of honest accomplishment at something! I really am proud of them. I tell them that. I ask them to let me read what they wrote to the class. I sometimes make an entire class of CI around what I see. Like Jim said recently here, the best stuff seems to always come from stuff they make up (a lot of that came out of Alaska – Michele and Jenny).
How to get the bar graphs into the grade book? On improvement! If the graphs go up (and they always do because free writes actually, for real, result in very concrete gains in the same way that reading results in very concrete gains) then that is reflected in the grade book. (as long as they are not forced to write too early, before they have heard a ton of the target language.)
Another thing I do to feed the gradebook is to just stack up their composition books every once in a while and go through them at lunch or whenever and eyeball their writing and award points out of ten and put that in the book as a freewrite grade.
One thing about the bar graphs that Hope mentioned in an email about this to me is very important to my personal view of teaching – that the child needs to be encouraged at every turn to take responsibility for their own relationship with their learning. Hope said it this way:
“I love the idea of a bar graph because then they are self-reflecting and it’s not all in my hands.”
Not only that, but the graphs give us a way to measure the kid on improvement against their own efforts, and not by comparing them to the kid in the next desk, which, to me, is loathsome and stinky.
Hope this helps. Maybe others will weigh on this as to how they do it, as well.



2 thoughts on “Hope”

  1. I have taken a different approach to timed writes since doing it as Ben describes above for 2 years..
    I was seeing kids get caught in a rut with their writings, as they went for the most words as fast as possible, therefore ditching more complex and newer structures for the easy standbys. (Again, this is just my experience, and perhaps is something that I saw in response to how I was teaching. Perhaps I was the one repeating those same structures that kept popping up in their writings???)
    Now, I don’t grade on increases in numbers, as I think this stifles creative and original use of the language. Instead, I give a completion grade (no English and a reasonable amount of words in 5 minutes). When I watch kids, they seem to be writing as much as they can. If they are not writing as much as I think they can, I can always make a note in the kid’s notebook or talk to them about my concerns.
    Also, I used to not use writing prompts, and I think this added to the simplicity of the writings. Now I do use them, and I can tell they are reaching for words that can help them go in the direction of the prompt (they do not have to describe the picture, which is usually what my prompts are, but rather create a story with the picture as the stimulus.)
    Also, I’m only doing 2 per month. I highlight two sentences/parts of a sentence in each timed write with two different colors: orange – something I saw that is good, yellow – something I saw that needs fixed. That’s my approach for the time being. Maybe what I am doing is different from a “Free Write” now, so this may not apply whatsoever.

  2. “…I don’t grade on increases in numbers…”.
    “…now I do use [writing prompts]…”.
    “…I highlight two sentences/parts of a sentence in each timed write with two different colors: orange – something I saw that is good, yellow – something I saw that needs fixed…”.
    Jim this is what the free write has evolved into and I think that it is a good evolution from just counting words. I especially appreciate what you said about their not stretching their minds if their goal is quantity and how you give a completion grade instead. Thanks for these ideas. I’m going to use at least the first two (maybe not the third because I am lazy on the colored markers thing, just plain lazy). We’ll see what happens.

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