Using Data to Determine What Students Need to Learn and Practice for Writing

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Feb. 7, 2021, 4:36 p.m.

When it comes to writing, some writing skills are constrained, meaning once they are learned there is no need to continue to teach or have deliberate practice. Grammar skills are constrained skills. After direct instruction, coaching, and practice, students will have learned these skills and are using them with automaticity as they move through the writing process. Only data will tell if students need to continue to learn or deliberately practice. We can gather this data by looking at student writing and giving students weekly spelling and grammar checks.

Writing a composition is an unconstrained skill. This means that we continue learning and developing expertise until the day we stop writing. To develop expertise, students need to study mentor texts, looking at author’s craft. They need to ask themselves "What do expert authors do that the student can try out and add to their toolbox?" We call these "craft moves" and students are actually gathering data from other authors.

As students compose for authentic or test reasons, it is critical to start with a rubric. The points on the rubric become the teaching points for mini lessons. It’s important to break the rubric into digestible chunks and have students deliberately practice each chunk. As we teach the points, we explain that each quality statement on the rubric is the success criteria for writing a score “4” paper.

This is where the modeling the craft moves becomes so important! Students need to see the thinking and have an opportunity to experiment with coaching and deliberate practice. As they experiment, we can gather data to determine to what extent the writer has learned the moves and determine our next steps.

Our ultimate goal is for students to self evaluate their writing. Students can’t assess or "grade" their own writing unless they know what each part of the rubric means. In Randi Anderson's 4th grade class, students "write with the stars" weekly. They are given a composition to score and discuss. This gives Mrs. Anderson an opportunity to gather data, see misconceptions or misunderstandings and take action to clear up the confusion. Watch the video below to see a clip from our "Writing with the Stars" online seminar.

We recorded Randi Anderson's seminar "Writing with the Stars." If you are interested in purchasing the hour and a half PD session, click here for information. You will receive a certificate of attendance for 1.5 clock hours after completing the seminar survey.