Practices in Pedagogy

"To Teach is to Learn Twice Over"

Writing as Assessment

Why is it important to use writing as an assessment tool when checking for understanding? What is your impression of the RAFT approach to checking for understanding?

Writing offers an excellent opportunity to gauge what a student knows, no matter what kind of a student that individual is. Frey and Fisher argue, “Writing clarifies thinking. For that matter, writing is thinking” (57). When a student writes, her/she is expressing whatever is going in his/her mind. If a student is frustrated due to the difficult concept being taught, the writing will seem frustrated. If a student is easily grasping the material, the writing will be at ease. If a student possesses questions, the writing will be full of questions. No matter what state of understanding a student may be, his/her writing will reflect the truth. Therefore, as Fisher and Frey perceive, “Analyzing student writing is a great way for teachers to determine what their students know, what they do not know, and what they still want to learn” (60).

The key to using writing as an assessment tool is the manner in which one employs the writing. Far too often students are made enemies to their writing- they are disciplined by sentence writing, and taught that writing a paragraph after class is equal to detention. This approach is not helpful for either student or teacher. The student loses respect and a passion to write, and the teacher loses the valuable assessment tool of the written word. Teachers should avoid using writing as a punishment device; instead, focus on specific writing strategies employed to check for understanding. Interactive writing serves as an example. This writing form allows for students to engage with the subject material they are learning, thereby encouraging reflection and improvement. Another method is the “Read-Write-Pair-Share” process, where the focus is not just on the written word for a source of comprehension, but also as a means to instigate partner discussion. Summary writing can also serve as an incredibly valuable assessment tool. At the end of a lesson, students can quickly write out what they learned in a single paragraph- thereby providing an opportunity for recognition, understanding, and reflection.

A final writing strategy aimed at improving classroom assessment is the RAFT approach. Through a writing-to-learn prompt, students are encouraged to explore the Role of the writer, the Audience of the work, the writing’s Format, and finally the Topic of the writing. Fisher and Frey argue, “RAFT writing prompts were designed to help students take different perspectives in their writing and thus their thinking” (67). By asking students to reflect, in writing, about a certain material, they are provided an opportunity to better understand that material and their personal relationship to that material. When students are asked to assess themselves in such a way, the possibility of learning and understanding is greatly increased.

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