Any advice for grading essays at the elementary and middle school levels?
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I think you could get several answers to this question as teachers tend to have differing opinions on assessment, especially at the elementary school level.
I will simply say that I believe assessment should always be tailored to the lessons a student has been taught. Certainly, state curriculum guidelines have been written to provide benchmark skills at each grade level. These were created to provide curriculum guidelines. As you use them to write your lesson plans, you should keep them in mind as create assessment to go with those lessons.
I'm not sure that many classes in elementary school are at the level of writing full essays, so I would presume that below 6th grade you are simply teaching and assessing complete sentences, writing on topic, and possibly some beginning lessons in organization and transition words.
After 6th grade, the following is a list of common assessment points for essays at any grade level:
- Style (includes sentence variety and vocabulary)
You can vary the depth of assessment in these areas depending on what you've taught and what the students should know.
Designing a Rubric Scale is an efficient and fair way to grade material that can be subjective in nature. Give three teachers the same essay to grade and they might come up with different scores. Sometimes the scores can reflect a wide disparity, sometimes not. The point is however that a Rubric can help to develop a set of standards for the material. As a scale you would have to determine what you are grading for example grammar mechanics, vocabulary, spelling, critical thinking skills, etc. Rubrics are usually based on levels 1-5 with each level the criteria of student mastery is designated. By having a set of parameters for grading subjective material offers the teacher a concise method of assessment.
I have to agree with #3 - a rubric is an essential piece of equipment if you are going to grade work fairly and in a transparent fashion. The great thing about using rubrics is that they can be shared with the students so that they know how you are going to mark their work and they can take responsibility themselves for the mark they get. An exercise I do with high schoolers (but you might be able to adapt it) is before getting them to do an essay I give them a couple of sample essays to mark using the same rubric that I will use to mark their work. It really helps.
I agree that a rubric is essential in grading essays at any level. I think in the lower levels you will need to spend some time teaching the students about the rubric and what it means to their writing.
I agree with the idea of a rubric, and I'd add one idea to the above posts. My experience is that letting students help write the rubric by which they are assessed is a good way to give them ownership. They're actually much tougher most of the time than I am. Ask them, for example, what an excellent paragraph should contain, what a makes a good paragraph, and what a below average paragraph is missing. You are still in control, of course, but they'll generally create high expectations if you let them decide on their own. This is not appropriate for every assignment or every rubric, but it's not a bad way to start.
I would suggest that you have a specific target for each writing assignment and focus on that one thing. I think it's difficult for younger students to concentrate on everything. So I would do something like this. Have a writing assignment where the only thing that is evaluated is the use of transitions. That way student can focus on doing one thing well, mastering one very important aspect of writing. Another assignment might focus on using different length/type of sentences. I think this approaches can lead to more "success" and make writing, which is always work, seem like less of a chore.
And then, of course, there should always be the fun assignments where students write about whatever they like and where just tell them all the GOOD things they've done. Writing without fear has always seemed like a good idea to me!
For middle school students, I would suggest that you read Nancy Atwell's book In the Middle and then use her ideas in the Lessons that Change Writers book. She is quite helpful, very specific, and I found her ideas worked well with my students. Then have student groups of 4 critique and grade several of her examples using a rubric created by you and the students. Once they understand, have students write an introductory or body paragraph with a partner, trade with another group and then have each group explain the grade they have given to their partners. I found that if students could do this much, they understood essay writing more clearly which made grading much easier.
When you have the students write an essay, decide together which elements will be graded and remember that you have veto power if necessary. Maybe this time, the four elements will be staying on topic, using clear transitional words or whatever is needed. Have the students grade each other's first and explain the score given according to the rubric. Then let them correct errors and grade their own papers explaining why they gave themselves that grade. Then I collected them and could see what they did and did not understand which made it much easier to grade. For grammar, I corrected the one paragraph chosen by the student as their best paragraph. I gave one holistic grade and one grade for the four elements chosen for that assignment. This method takes time but worked well for me.
Nancie Atwell is a wonderful resource of knowledge. One thing I would suggest in addtion to her books is to be selective about what you are scoring on each piece. Don't try to score everything on every piece of writing. Perhaps on one you score voice and sentence variety. Then on another piece, you could score figurative language and grammar. This way it does not become overwhelming to you or the student.
The idea of a rubric is, indeed, a good one as structure is always important; however, the rubric for elementary and middle school students may need to be kept fairly basic so as not to discourage young writers. Perhaps focusing on one or two concepts at a time will be more effective, and marking too many things sometimes discourages children.
Yes, begin by developing a rubric BEFORE you assign the essay. Then teach to the rubric. Make sure the students have the rubric, and understand it. Then grading will be a snap. The subjective becomes more objective. The students will also be able to get more specific feedback off the rubric.
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