As a Special Education teacher, an important part of my job is progress monitoring. While I like my assessment systems for reading and math, I have struggled with how to progress monitor writing. My colleagues have been using a system that involves giving students prompts and then assessing how many words they produce in a three minute time period. For some students with fluency or production issues, this is meaningful. However, many of my students struggle with executive processing and they need specialized instruction to develop focus, organization, and their abilities to respond to questions. Therefore, asking them to write as much as possible to a prompt is not really measuring the skills that will help them become more successful and independent within regular education.
This year, I set up writing binders for my 5th and 6th graders, scaffolding the writing process for them. Fifth and sixth graders have been working on essay writing and when students first learn about essays, we teach them the basic structure of the five paragraph essay. Therefore, I set them up with tabbed sections for:
- Developing a topic. All they have to do is state a thesis and three supporting details.
- Expanding the topic. They have to do the above, but add anecdotal stories, facts, or evidence that support the details.
- A scaffolded introduction. I give them the written prompts for a hook, their thesis statement, and a sentence containing their three reasons.
- An unscaffolded introduction. They have to write the introduction without my support.
- A scaffolded developmental paragraph. I worked out templates for them to follow to maintain their essay's organization and include the details from their expanded topic.
- An unscaffolded developmental paragraph.
My experience with this indicated that once students could work through all of these steps, I did not need to include the conclusion, because they were independently able to summarize their work if they got that far.
The benefits of using this system was that I knew exactly where individual students struggled in the writing process. For example, one of my students couldn't think of ideas but once he did, could move through the steps. Another student required significant instruction to write an introduction. Therefore, he stayed in the scaffolded introduction section for several lessons. For all of my students with writing goals and objectives, I know exactly where they are sequentially in the steps of writing essays and, more importantly, they know where they are! Essays are overwhelming for students who have struggled with writing so I found that laying it out for them with specific steps to master was empowering to students.
For next year, I will continue to set up binders and I may try some color-coding to help some of my visual learners. One of my colleagues has added a place for students to organize and self-assess whether they have included elaboration strategies such as quotes, facts, anecdotes, statistics and descriptions. I may work on including this step within my binder, as well--thank you, Heather. In the meantime, benchmark assessments are underway and so far, I am pleased with the growth I have seen in most of my students for written expression.