"We dreamed of this moment," with these words, Lucy Calkins welcomed Carmen Fariña, New York City Schools Chancellor, to address the March 2014 Principals Conference. Fariña spoke to the group of Project principals for approximately thirty minutes, offering encouragement for and affirmation in their decision-making power as principals. She began by recollecting her experiences as the principal of PS 6 where she formed an affiliation with the Project and was fortunate to work closely with Carl Anderson and Kathleen Tolan, now a Senior Deputy Director at the TCRWP. Fariña reflected that she would not have been, "as effective as a school leader without Lucy and the Project." She went on to recount her professional journey and highlighted that at each step along the way, she turned to Calkins and the TCRWP for support. Throughout her decades as a leader in the field of education, Fariña has emphasized the importance of professional development for teachers and for school leaders. After describing the major points in her career, she explained her reason for coming back from retirement to serve as Schools Chancellor. In short, Fariña said she came back to support principals and to ensure that principals are encouraged to stand up for their beliefs. "Principals need to be principled," she advised.
Further, Fariña expressed her particular concern for several groups of students – English language learners, students with special needs, and middle school students. She advised that through collaboration educators can reform education and ensure that the needs of students are prioritized, "Children first. Always." Fariña’s inspirational address ended with a standing ovation from Project principals.
Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions, K-5, by Lucy Calkins (Heinemann, 2013) has yielded insightful conversations about writing assessments and tracking student progress across the unit and year, as well as studying trends across the grade and school. This publication has also helped educators think about their own methods as writing teachers and how we can be more effective to promote the success of young writers. Here are five ways that you can study the writing in your school alongside a book study of Writing Pathways. Through a book study about writing assessments you can think about the students in your classroom and reflect upon your teaching practice:
It is easy to become preoccupied with the piece a student is composing at any given time, focusing on ways to improve the writing and prepare it for publication. However, it's important to remember the philosophy of workshop teaching: teach the writer, not the writing; honor the process, not just the product. In our workshops we want to teach towards independence; therefore, students need to be taught in such a way that they internalize writing skills not just be told to do them.
What does this mean for our daily practice as writing teachers? In the first three chapters, Writing Pathways describes an assessment system in which teachers give students a clear and consistent prompt to quickly determine each child's current strengths and needs as a writer, then once again at the end of the unit to measure growth and progress toward end-of-year standards, and beyond. Meanwhile, our teaching can then emphasize the patterns of need writers have and help us supply students with specific and transferable strategies to support individual writers, not individual pieces of writing. Consequently, students are constantly working within their own developmental zone, making approximations as they strive to get stronger as writers.
The On-Demand assessments provide ongoing dipstick measurements of students' progress toward long-term goals in and across units of study. This way, our final celebrations across the school year can honor new learning and progress toward these long-term goals.
With teachers in your school, collect on demand writing samples of a similar genre, a week or two before you do a unit of study (with that genre). Use the continua in the book to help sort and sift your student work in various piles to see patterns and trends in your classrooms. Collaborate together and talk about the decisions and needs of your students. This way, at your school, you are developing a common 'lens' for how to study student work and you are developing a common language around that work.
Be Flexible & Responsive: More Effective in Conferences and Small Groups In Chapter 4 of Writing Pathways, we learn about ways to provide various pathways of instruction to our diverse range of learners. One important tip reminds us to make sure that our conferring and small group work responds to the specific needs children have, and not tightly connected to that day's minilesson. This pushes us as writing teachers to determine students' needs and teach responsively, in many cases, inventing strategies on the spot. In this way, our workshop casts a wider net, reaching more writers—those in need of a reminder of prior teaching, facing unforeseen trouble, or those ready for a greater challenge.
Flexibility in our teaching also allows us to provide necessary scaffolds for students. It may be that you choose a different mentor text or adjust your demonstration writing to provide clearer examples for students; more comparable to students' current level of writing. Likewise, you may also choose to adjust the paper choices students use to provide additional supports such as a larger (or smaller) picture box, or a place to jot key words for writers who are moving toward writing longer down each page. You may also invent ways to incorporate technology in your instruction, using web-based resources, apps, or short video clips. Increasing the flexibility of our teaching harkens back to the age-old proverb, "try, try again." When our teaching doesn't stick, it's important to try again, thinking creatively about alternate entry points to support students' understanding.
Chapter 11 addresses that common feeling writing teachers can have: What do I say? What do I teach? Using the writing checklist, we can guide the research we do as teachers, looking across the criteria with a child to think, "What are you already doing really well? What are you just starting to do that you can do more?" Not only does this frame the conversation around strengths and goals, but it also helps reinforce the expectations outlined by the checklist so that it serves as an ongoing tool, long after the conference. You might even highlight a particular strand on the checklist, emphasizing this to promote independent practice and accountability.
Developing clear and crystallized goals supports students to grow and learn more. Set goals by studying your student work alongside the checklists and gather small groups of students (especially 'outliers') and teach a series of small group strategy lessons. At the end of the unit of study, as you do a summative assessment, reflect on the goals you worked on with your students to look for signs of progress.
Assessments, done. Conferences, got it. Wait, record-keeping? How can we track students' progress in manageable ways so that we use data, not just collect it? Across Chapter 9, one word resonates: consolidate. It is easy to become overwhelmed by sheets of paper and stacks of folders, filing them away and not using them in our daily practice. By consolidating data gathered from writing assessments, you're more likely to use this information in your everyday teaching. For example, you might create a one-page spreadsheet recording students' names down the left-hand column and numerical scores across each row to quickly reveal patterns and trends, such as low-scoring students in the category of Leads. You may instead choose to put students into boxes, grouped by common needs as determined by the categories of the rubric to plan for strategy lessons and conferences across the unit. Perhaps, you'll keep a color-coded copy of the writing rubric in a tabbed binder to track progress across individual conferences keeping conferring notes side-by-side with assessment data for each student. Ultimately, the system you develop will be unique to your own preferences and classroom makeup.
In your study group with colleagues, you may explore a couple of different record-keeping systems, compiling individual class data before coming together to share how students performed on pre-assessments. Look across each class to study patterns. You may help one another form flexible strategy groups as you enter an upcoming unit. Then, zoom-out to study trends across the grade (or even across multiple grades) to set larger goals for writing instruction. What do you notice about students' organization? Volume? Development? Use of craft? Spelling strategies? Punctuation? Establish goals and reflect on unit plans to incorporate a heightened focus on specific areas of need.
Writing Pathways includes leveled student samples as well as annotated writing developed using the progressions for opinion, information, and narrative writing. These both serve as incredible tools for classroom use. You may share student samples before launching a unit of study as a way to immerse your class in the upcoming genre. You might say, "This is a piece by a kid, just like you, who wrote an information book to teach all about a topic she knows a lot about. Soon, you'll do this same kind of writing, too!" Or, you may use these pieces as a way to collaborate with your class to think about strategies to apply to strengthen the piece. Similarly, you might use exemplar pieces in an inquiry lesson, studying the moves one writer made to tell his story, marking up the piece to invite kids to try these same strategies in their own writing. By doing this kind of work early on, you help clarify the high expectations you have and provide a visual tool to encourage students to challenge themselves across the unit.
With colleagues, create an enlarged exemplar piece, transcribing samples from Pathways or adapting the sample to fit your own needs. For example, you may decide to draft an exemplar that more clearly defines the voice and structure of procedural writing for the Kindergarten How-to unit, since the exemplar is an informational text about bulldogs. Decide what elements of the writing you hope students will notice and apply to their own work. Jot these on post-its much like the annotated exemplars—keeping these post-its to the side until you unroll the exemplar piece in your own classroom. Having a clear vision for the end product will help support the inquiry work you lead with students. Expect to be surprised by the observations kids make! Add these to your list in the moment.
Across classrooms in districts near and far, teachers are unveiling checklists to help students self-assess and set goals, but they know this takes more work than passing out copies. First, it takes a clear message, "You are the boss of your own writing. You are in charge."Like anything, this kind of work takes practice and kids will approximate. You'll want to incorporate use of the checklist into your minilessons, demonstrating how to be thoughtful and honest as you self-assess. It'll be important to reveal your own next steps to encourage children to admit their own next steps. Celebrate when students have discovered areas to work on, reminding them that this is how writers get stronger, turning weaknesses into strengths!
You may invent playful ways for kids to use the checklist, creating partnership or table games. For example, have kids pick a strand at random then closely check across their entire piece (or folder) for evidence of that work, picking up pens to get right to work to revise or edit. Maybe students will give each other writing checkups, trading pieces and prescribing something to work on, as described in first grade's Writing Reviews. Maybe you'll work with small groups of writers to cut up the strands of their checklists to use as sorting pieces, before pasting next steps on an individual goal card, abbreviating the criteria and attending more to specific needs.
In your study group, consider ideas for unveiling the checklist with young writers. You might choose to adapt the checklist, creating your own visual icons to support independent use. Work together to develop and make a variety of "games" kids can play using the checklist. You might each create separate ones and come back to share successes and challenges to refine this work. Perhaps you'll take short video clips of partnerships interacting with the checklist. These will prove as a valuable tool to teach other students how to collaborate with partners, use the checklist, and set goals. You might trade video clips with a colleague to use in your own classroom.
Remember this book is a resource for you, filled with exemplars for and from teachers and students, continua for process and qualities of good writing, as well as student checklists. Enjoy the book study and the student progress that'll surely follow!
What does upper grade and middle school independent reading look like, what does the research say, and how do you know if it's going well?
When students are engaged in independent reading, they are choosing books they want to read, delving into them actively, often using post-its and reading notebooks to jot their thinking as they read, and reading for long stretches of time. When independent reading is going well, kids get a lot of reading done. They are dying to talk to a partner about what they are reading. They often start informal book clubs and partnerships where they read the same book. They read deeply in genres, across authors, and they devour series. They would never dream of starting a series in the middle or of not finishing a series. You know independent reading is going well when a new book comes out in a series, and your students know weeks ahead when it will be released. In the week of its release, you see copies of the book appear all over the school. The principal has it, the teachers have it, the kids have it. For example, in the last few years, the newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Hunger Games, and Divergent will be in kids' hands before the teachers'. That's when you know reading is going well.
You'll also know independent reading is going well when your students have a solid sense of text difficulty and can determine when a book is too easy or too hard for them. If it's too easy, they may choose to read it, but they should read it quickly. It's not unusual to see a high school student secret the newest Divergent novel or even Diary of a Wimpy Kid into his backpack – but he should read it in a night or two if it's easy for him, and then get back to books at his level. If the book is too hard, and for some reason (usually the social capital that comes with reading the text) they really want to read it, they should know how to find the audio version, or the film version, or the wiki site that supports the text, and they should also not spend too long on it. Most of your students' reading will be in books that they enjoy immensely, understand deeply, and are able to do interpret in meaningful ways.
The term 'independent reading' is a bit of a misnomer, as it actually, for teachers refers to 'highly negotiated reading that feels independent to students.' That is, while your goal is for students of any age to consistently choose books that are 'just right' for them – meaning books that pose enough complexity for them to be challenging, while still being within their zone of proximal development, most effective reading teachers find themselves involved in those choices. It's simply too important for children to move up levels regularly, and we know that they'll tend to do that when they read many books at their level, and reach toward the next level as soon as they are ready. That means that getting kids on courses of study, where they read across whole series, will help students move up levels. That, in turn, means recommending books to kids, or getting other kids to recommend books. It means that teachers need to be alert to when certain kids or groups of kids are ready to move up levels. It also means that teachers are alert for when kids can decode a hard novel but perhaps shouldn't due to mature content. So as well as steering kids towards the levels they are ready for, teachers also steer high level, young age readers towards the fantasy and historical fiction texts that will offer complexity without springing graphic content on the child.
Many teachers who have been teaching students to read independently as part of their reading curriculum use Fountas & Pinnell guided reading levels as a way to mark students' movement up levels. Some teachers who are just getting started have asked about Lexile levels. Allington has noted that in the absence of any other assessment system, Lexile is “Perhaps better than nothing.” The advantage of using Lexiles is efficiency – it takes very little time to determine a Lexile level for a text. It also doesn't give you much information. Our experience as readers and teachers of reading over many years reinforces our knowledge that in order to assess text complexity you have to assess the content and meaning of the text. A quantitative assessment such as Lexile simply won't capture the various ways a text may be complex, which means you may find yourself in danger of recommending a book to an eleven year old only to find out that despite its 'readability,' it has content that is wildly appropriate for that age, or avoiding extremely complex texts because they manifest as 'readable'.
The Lexile levels recommended for grades 6-8 in New York State, for example, are Lexile levels in the range of 925-1185 for middle school.
Using this range, one would have to exclude as too easy for 11-14 year olds:
One could, however, include as appropriately difficult:
We recommend that you use a good dose of common sense, as well as the years of reading research which lead experienced educators to assess text complexity on content and meaning, vocabulary, structure, and length as well as syntactical complexity (as recommended in the CCSS documents). You don't want to be the teacher who puts The Bluest Eye in the hands of a ten year old, or the teacher who shuns To Kill a Mockingbird as too 'simple' for your eighth graders. Read the books, stories, and articles you are using as anchor texts. Handle the books that your kids will read for independent reading, read the back covers, ask students to tell you about the stories. Make informed decisions.
If you are looking for research to support independent reading, we suggest you turn to Peter Johnston, Richard Allington, and the recent literature review put together by Booksource (on through a link on our website at…..). Allington, in a variety of his texts and especially in What Really Matters for Struggling Readers, and Summer Reading: Closing the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap, documents the three cornerstones of reading success: protected time to read, access to books they find fascinating, and expert instruction. Allington summarizes the wealth of research showing that kids need eyes on print, across many pages, and many minutes. There is no shortcut to reading success – like any other endeavor, you need lots and lots of practice time. In his guide issued by Scholastic, Independent Reading: The Case for an “Asses, Evaluate, Teach” Cycle, shares his research in Virginia schools, where the focus on reading volume, engagement, and stamina, increased comprehension as well as fostered lifelong readers.
The way you'll really know that independent reading is going well, though, is that teachers and students will be confident and engaged readers, who love books, like to talk about them, and crave reading time. Independent reading goes well when teachers understand text complexity and are confident steering readers up levels. It goes well when teachers love books and love to read. It goes well when reading is contagious, when the whole school becomes a place that celebrates a culture of reading. You can't discipline kids into becoming lifelong readers. You, can, however, entice them pretty easily, by putting fascinating children's and young adult books in their hands. Usually, the books are so good, they'll do the work for you.
In recent months, the TCRWP has fielded several questions about the assessment system aligned to the new Units of Study for Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing, Grades K-5. Please refer to the frequently asked questions and answers listed below. For a more in-depth understanding of the learning progressions and assessment system, please refer to Writing Pathways, Grades K-5; Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions by Lucy Calkins.What is the difference between a learning progression and a scoring rubric?
The learning progressions describe development in three aspects of writing: structure, development, and language conventions. These progressions are meant to show the path writers take moving step by step along a continuum of development.
The rubrics stem from the learning progressions and are, of course, closely aligned to the student checklists. These rubrics allow teachers to score a piece of writing, based on the corresponding grade level expectations. Rubric scoring is done by adding up scores from components of a student's writing to find a raw score, then converting that raw score into a scaled score.How should I score parts of a student's work on the rubric if it is below a 1?
For certain student samples, components of their writing will not be reflected on the scoring rubric. Since 1 is the lowest score on the rubric, if a component of a child's writing falls below a 1 you should score it a 0. For scoring purposes that component will be scored as a zero, but for instructional purposes teachers should look back to the learning progression to see where on the progression the child is, and what future instruction will help the student develop her writing skills.
For kindergarten, if a child's work is consistently scoring zeros across components they might end up with a raw score that is below 2, which is not indicated on the raw-to-scale score table. In this instance the child's scaled score is a 1. Therefore, a kindergarten student cannot score below 1 as a scaled score.
All of this means that a piece of student writing cannot be graded a 0 as the scaled score, but within components of the rubric a student might score zero points.How should I transfer scaled scores to letter grade scores?
We feel strongly that grades given for writing should include many factors related to student performance. In addition to the use of on-demand and published writing, teachers should consider students' volume of writing, their growth over time, their willingness and ability to attempt strategies taught in class, and their understanding and use of writing process. For school sites that give out letter grades in writing, each school will have to agree on letter grade scores based on either scaled scores or raw scores. This way scoring will be consistent through a grade level and across grade levels so that data can be compared. Many schools have held workshops for families so that they can understand these rubrics, but more importantly expectations across the year. It is significant to note that the expectations in any given grade level are end of the year expectations and are Common Core aligned, which means they are particularly ambitious.How do I use the rubrics when there is not an exact match between the unit that was taught and the rubric?
The rubrics were designed for on-demand use so that teachers across grades could use the same tool to collect and assess student work and track student growth. Again, consistency in administration of the on-demand writing and scoring of student performance across years is the goal. However, it is also true that many teachers use the rubrics to score students' published pieces according to text type. We invite you to make these changes. This means that teachers have made decisions about slight adjustments to the rubrics when the type of text the students have written does not match the unit of study. For example, some teachers who taught the fourth grade unit on realistic fiction made some revisions in the language of the rubric and checklist in the overall structure category to reflect the ways writers develop characters and plots in realistic fiction. Of course, we always recommend collaboration within schools among teachers and across grades so that students receive consistent messages and are supported in their growth.How should writing samples collected from students who use adaptive technology or have a scribe for writing be scored in the conventions section of the rubric?
In these cases, schools usually decide to revise the total points and corresponding scale scores to remove the conventions category of the rubric.How should I account for a student's writing process when using the rubrics?
The on-demand writing samples collected and scored using the rubrics offer one piece of assessment data. Please refer to pages 220-225 in Writing Pathways for another learning progression related to writing process. Please also consider that student on-demand writing is only one piece of assessment data and should be considered in conjunction with many other sources of information such as students' volume of writing, their growth over time, and their willingness and ability to attempt strategies taught in class.
Read and find out about the adjustments that the state is planning around the implementation of the Common Core.Read more...