Writing Assessment: A Necessary Evil

I’m going to be honest about Kathleen Blake Yancey’s “Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty-First Century–A Primer,” I hated every second of reading it.  I will admit that it gave a comprehensive look at writing assessment, its waves, and its controversy, but it was just a boring read for me.  The way the document had been scanned into the computer also made it difficult to read; on every other page the text was very faint, and I had to get really close to the screen to even make out what it said, which put a lot of strain on my eyes.

I feel that, because of my age, I have been privileged to experience assessment of my writing skills from all three waves.  When I was younger I think holistic writing assessment was cresting while multiple choice testing was still in the posterior part of its wave.  I can remember selecting multiple choice grammar and vocabulary questions on tests like the CAT, GEPA, and HSPA.  Even the SAT had some questions like that, although my SAT was one of the first to feature the essay writing section, which was a holistic assessment. When I was in highschool I had my first experience with portfolio assessment as well.  I believe it was in a creative writing class that they asked me to do a portfolio and reflections.  Aside from that, however, the dominant writing assessment in my highschool years was holistic.  It was not until junior year in college that portfolio assessments became the norm. 

The whole issue of having to assess writing in a certain way just to please and validate the teaching of writing to people outside of the discipline is kind of ridiculous to me.  It seems like the humanities have to devote a disproportionate amount of energy into justifying themselves as something worth learning/teaching.  I don’t know if this is because of the notion that STEM is the key to America’s economic future, or what.  I mean, what if we asked teachers of physics to justify themselves in the terms and norms of writing assessment?  How would they do it?  And how would they feel about it?  Sometimes I feel like WAC is the only thing keeping English departments alive in American universities/colleges. 

Shortly after I began working in the writing center, I realized that writing centers have a very hard time with assessment.  Because we don’t have access to grades, we had to come up with a way to gauge the progress of students who regularly attended our sessions.  We decided to look for similar things to the composition rubric, with extra allowances made for things like lifelong learning skills.  In that way, I guess we are floating somewhere in the holistic wave.

I’ve told the story in class about the representatives from a college in Florida I encountered at a writing center conference.  Their school graded entirely with “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory,” which removed a lot of the obsession with grades that distracts students from just LEARNING.  If I had to offer a solution to the challenge of writing assessment, it would be to adopt that same kind of grading system.  Did the students demonstrate all or most of the skills listed on the outcomes sheet?  Yeah?  Okay.  They get a satisfactory. They learned. End of story.  Less stress; less fuss, for everyone involved.    

 

Writing Assessment: A Necessary Evil

I’m going to be honest about Kathleen Blake Yancey’s “Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty-First Century–A Primer,” I hated every second of reading it.  I will admit that it gave a comprehensive look at writing assessment, its waves, and its controversy, but it was just a boring read for me.  The way the document had been scanned into the computer also made it difficult to read; on every other page the text was very faint, and I had to get really close to the screen to even make out what it said, which put a lot of strain on my eyes.

I feel that, because of my age, I have been privileged to experience assessment of my writing skills from all three waves.  When I was younger I think holistic writing assessment was cresting while multiple choice testing was still in the posterior part of its wave.  I can remember selecting multiple choice grammar and vocabulary questions on tests like the CAT, GEPA, and HSPA.  Even the SAT had some questions like that, although my SAT was one of the first to feature the essay writing section, which was a holistic assessment. When I was in highschool I had my first experience with portfolio assessment as well.  I believe it was in a creative writing class that they asked me to do a portfolio and reflections.  Aside from that, however, the dominant writing assessment in my highschool years was holistic.  It was not until junior year in college that portfolio assessments became the norm. 

The whole issue of having to assess writing in a certain way just to please and validate the teaching of writing to people outside of the discipline is kind of ridiculous to me.  It seems like the humanities have to devote a disproportionate amount of energy into justifying themselves as something worth learning/teaching.  I don’t know if this is because of the notion that STEM is the key to America’s economic future, or what.  I mean, what if we asked teachers of physics to justify themselves in the terms and norms of writing assessment?  How would they do it?  And how would they feel about it?  Sometimes I feel like WAC is the only thing keeping English departments alive in American universities/colleges. 

Shortly after I began working in the writing center, I realized that writing centers have a very hard time with assessment.  Because we don’t have access to grades, we had to come up with a way to gauge the progress of students who regularly attended our sessions.  We decided to look for similar things to the composition rubric, with extra allowances made for things like lifelong learning skills.  In that way, I guess we are floating somewhere in the holistic wave.

I’ve told the story in class about the representatives from a college in Florida I encountered at a writing center conference.  Their school graded entirely with “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory,” which removed a lot of the obsession with grades that distracts students from just LEARNING.  If I had to offer a solution to the challenge of writing assessment, it would be to adopt that same kind of grading system.  Did the students demonstrate all or most of the skills listed on the outcomes sheet?  Yeah?  Okay.  They get a satisfactory. They learned. End of story.  Less stress; less fuss, for everyone involved.    

 

What Has Writing Become? — Blog #10

The first selection I will address is “Writing as Making/Making as Writing” by speakers Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Nichole Pinkard, Bud Hunt, and Andrew Sliwinsky. In a refreshing change of pace, this assignment is a recorded video chat conversation between four speakers on the importance of writing as an interdisciplinary skill, and how this skill can be introduced to people with all kinds of different interests. This talk strikes a familiar chord with our class, as it is related to the National Writing Project, an organization with which we are all familiar.

The entry point into this conversation comes from Elyse Eidman-Aadahl who speaks about the young person as the productive agent in the learning environment. Eidman-Aadahl places immense importance on this fact, and emphasizes the importance of teachers realizing this and treating students with respect to this title as agent. After all, as is noted in the video chat, writing is not just about essays and research papers, it’s about making. As Eidman-Aadahl says, “Writing is craft.” Writing is a tool for the creator and, whatever the project, it should be recognized as such. We have talked about this idea extensively throughout the semester- how students need to be encouraged to write in relevant ways.

Another point that Eidman-Aadahl made that I think is important to note is the role of the teacher as “maker.” I think it is extremely important for a teacher to stay relevant in his or her field by contributing. In doing this, the teacher never stops learning and participating in their fields of interest, which keeps the subjects fresh for them and enables them to be inspired, which is good both for them and for their students. I remember talking about this more extensively in the second part of this class (coming for everyone else next semester), but I think it was an interesting and crucial thing to note in the context of this talk.

Crucial to this talk is the concept of the “maker space,” which is a learning space established as a separate entity from schools. Most excitingly, these spaces aren’t just limited to the natural writers! According to our speakers, “writers are made, not born.” Additionally, they aren’t all English majors. Contributor Bud Hunt comes from a STEM perspective and made a case for such spaces as “promoting habits across domains.” Nichole Pinkard, a computer programmer, speaks to the importance of maker spaces as places which cultivate the “integration of literacies.” Gone are the days in which students could limit writing to the English classroom, and thank goodness for that!

I appreciate the idea that anyone can be a writer. For some reason, it seems that people have the concept that writers are born with the talent to write, but Eidman-Aadahl points out that in other fields (engineering, computer programming, etc.), it is understood that knowledge is gained through hard work. This is also true for writing! I do believe strongly that people are born with certain talents and propensities, but I think that much can be learned through training and perseverance.

Writing should not be work, it should not be an obligation. The best thing that could happen to the perception of writing would be for it to be seen as a joy, and an outlet. Andrew Sliwinski sites a quote from William Morris: “Art is man’s joy and labor.” He does this for the purpose of pointing out that labor is necessary but, when joy is involved, the product comes naturally. It’s not about training, necessarily, it’s about love of the craft– whether the craft is writing itself, or anything else you could be interested in and want to share with the world.

The biggest thing I got from this talk is that writing is inter-disciplinary, open to students of all walks of life. As I noted above, each of the speakers in this talk had something different to offer, and each came from a different world. It’s for reasons like this that students can no longer have an excuse to not care about writing, because it is completely relevant to all fields and interests, and can find a home in any kind of passion. The concept of maker spaces is fantastic to me, because it separates writing from school assignments. I was particularly struck by the concept of maker spaces as having “low floors and high ceilings,” which is an incredibly inclusive and inspiration concept. It’s also refreshing to have hope that writing will evolve with the times and remain an important part of scholarship, whether it is writing in the traditional research paper sense, or writing to convey interest and excitement in Minecraft.

I enjoyed this video because it felt like a fresh take on the topics we have discussed in class. Because it’s not another paper, it felt more interactive and engaging, and overall I enjoyed the discussion.

In a stark contrast to the first selection, the other assigned selection is “Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty-First Century” by author Katheen Blake Yancey. Whereas the first conversation focused on the importance of maker spaces and interactive and practical applications of writing, Yancey brings the focus back to writing assessment in the contemporary classroom. As much as it hurts to think about, tests like the SAT still exist to assess student’s knowledge, and it’s still the teacher’s primary job to prepare them for these examinations. Traditional classroom writing instruction isn’t going anywhere so the discussion becomes, “how can we best introduce this to students in a way that they will understand?”

In this piece, Yancey dissects the current movement in writing assessment, which she defines as “complicated, dynamic, and…in flux” (172), which certainly does seem to be the case. Writing instruction has evolved to include themes that have become prevalent in writing in recent years, including race, social status, ESL, and the digital world, among others. In a way that faintly echoes the sentiments of the speakers in the first selection, Yancey makes note of the fact that the environment surrounding writing is changing and there are far more variables surrounding the field that must be taken into account.

A particular approach which has been implemented over the years is the portfolio approach, which requires the student to compile a portfolio of drafts throughout the semester, culminating in a final work. The goal of this approach is the ability to trace progress throughout the writing process. In regard to the conversation surrounding portfolio grading (granting the fact that I am not a teacher), the portfolio seems to be an effective way of observing student, as long as it is observed by the teacher throughout the semester. If the portfolio were to be collected at the end of the semester with no prior review, I fail to see how this would help the student.  If the portfolio were to be compiled throughout the semester with periodic reviews and conversations regarding process, I feel that this approach could be quite effective. However, the unfortunate truth is that this might prove to be idealistic, considering that teachers have limited time.

This piece is a far more technical essay than the first selection, which made it challenging to follow, but I’m looking forward to seeing what my classmates were able to draw from the conversation. Personally, I was engaged by her discussion of portfolio grading, so I would especially like to hear from the teachers in class as to if they think this is an effective solution.

What Has Writing Become? — Blog #10

The first selection I will address is “Writing as Making/Making as Writing” by speakers Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Nichole Pinkard, Bud Hunt, and Andrew Sliwinsky. In a refreshing change of pace, this assignment is a recorded video chat conversation between four speakers on the importance of writing as an interdisciplinary skill, and how this skill can be introduced to people with all kinds of different interests. This talk strikes a familiar chord with our class, as it is related to the National Writing Project, an organization with which we are all familiar.

The entry point into this conversation comes from Elyse Eidman-Aadahl who speaks about the young person as the productive agent in the learning environment. Eidman-Aadahl places immense importance on this fact, and emphasizes the importance of teachers realizing this and treating students with respect to this title as agent. After all, as is noted in the video chat, writing is not just about essays and research papers, it’s about making. As Eidman-Aadahl says, “Writing is craft.” Writing is a tool for the creator and, whatever the project, it should be recognized as such. We have talked about this idea extensively throughout the semester- how students need to be encouraged to write in relevant ways.

Another point that Eidman-Aadahl made that I think is important to note is the role of the teacher as “maker.” I think it is extremely important for a teacher to stay relevant in his or her field by contributing. In doing this, the teacher never stops learning and participating in their fields of interest, which keeps the subjects fresh for them and enables them to be inspired, which is good both for them and for their students. I remember talking about this more extensively in the second part of this class (coming for everyone else next semester), but I think it was an interesting and crucial thing to note in the context of this talk.

Crucial to this talk is the concept of the “maker space,” which is a learning space established as a separate entity from schools. Most excitingly, these spaces aren’t just limited to the natural writers! According to our speakers, “writers are made, not born.” Additionally, they aren’t all English majors. Contributor Bud Hunt comes from a STEM perspective and made a case for such spaces as “promoting habits across domains.” Nichole Pinkard, a computer programmer, speaks to the importance of maker spaces as places which cultivate the “integration of literacies.” Gone are the days in which students could limit writing to the English classroom, and thank goodness for that!

I appreciate the idea that anyone can be a writer. For some reason, it seems that people have the concept that writers are born with the talent to write, but Eidman-Aadahl points out that in other fields (engineering, computer programming, etc.), it is understood that knowledge is gained through hard work. This is also true for writing! I do believe strongly that people are born with certain talents and propensities, but I think that much can be learned through training and perseverance.

Writing should not be work, it should not be an obligation. The best thing that could happen to the perception of writing would be for it to be seen as a joy, and an outlet. Andrew Sliwinski sites a quote from William Morris: “Art is man’s joy and labor.” He does this for the purpose of pointing out that labor is necessary but, when joy is involved, the product comes naturally. It’s not about training, necessarily, it’s about love of the craft– whether the craft is writing itself, or anything else you could be interested in and want to share with the world.

The biggest thing I got from this talk is that writing is inter-disciplinary, open to students of all walks of life. As I noted above, each of the speakers in this talk had something different to offer, and each came from a different world. It’s for reasons like this that students can no longer have an excuse to not care about writing, because it is completely relevant to all fields and interests, and can find a home in any kind of passion. The concept of maker spaces is fantastic to me, because it separates writing from school assignments. I was particularly struck by the concept of maker spaces as having “low floors and high ceilings,” which is an incredibly inclusive and inspiration concept. It’s also refreshing to have hope that writing will evolve with the times and remain an important part of scholarship, whether it is writing in the traditional research paper sense, or writing to convey interest and excitement in Minecraft.

I enjoyed this video because it felt like a fresh take on the topics we have discussed in class. Because it’s not another paper, it felt more interactive and engaging, and overall I enjoyed the discussion.

In a stark contrast to the first selection, the other assigned selection is “Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty-First Century” by author Katheen Blake Yancey. Whereas the first conversation focused on the importance of maker spaces and interactive and practical applications of writing, Yancey brings the focus back to writing assessment in the contemporary classroom. As much as it hurts to think about, tests like the SAT still exist to assess student’s knowledge, and it’s still the teacher’s primary job to prepare them for these examinations. Traditional classroom writing instruction isn’t going anywhere so the discussion becomes, “how can we best introduce this to students in a way that they will understand?”

In this piece, Yancey dissects the current movement in writing assessment, which she defines as “complicated, dynamic, and…in flux” (172), which certainly does seem to be the case. Writing instruction has evolved to include themes that have become prevalent in writing in recent years, including race, social status, ESL, and the digital world, among others. In a way that faintly echoes the sentiments of the speakers in the first selection, Yancey makes note of the fact that the environment surrounding writing is changing and there are far more variables surrounding the field that must be taken into account.

A particular approach which has been implemented over the years is the portfolio approach, which requires the student to compile a portfolio of drafts throughout the semester, culminating in a final work. The goal of this approach is the ability to trace progress throughout the writing process. In regard to the conversation surrounding portfolio grading (granting the fact that I am not a teacher), the portfolio seems to be an effective way of observing student, as long as it is observed by the teacher throughout the semester. If the portfolio were to be collected at the end of the semester with no prior review, I fail to see how this would help the student.  If the portfolio were to be compiled throughout the semester with periodic reviews and conversations regarding process, I feel that this approach could be quite effective. However, the unfortunate truth is that this might prove to be idealistic, considering that teachers have limited time.

This piece is a far more technical essay than the first selection, which made it challenging to follow, but I’m looking forward to seeing what my classmates were able to draw from the conversation. Personally, I was engaged by her discussion of portfolio grading, so I would especially like to hear from the teachers in class as to if they think this is an effective solution.

The Future: Writing as Making

Cannot believe that this is our last blog post! Luckily, we have two rich articles to discuss. Our first resource was actually a video called “Writing as Making/Making as Writing by Connected Learning TV.” Considering we live in a digital age where a wealth of information is accessible online, including a video in our reading list instead of a scholarly article was refreshing. This video came with many related links, resources and even Tweets, reflecting its connected learning concept. The focus of this webinar was discussing the connection between the Maker DIY movement and writing. The speakers framed writing as a creative process that produces a made thing, similar to the tangible objects created by the DIY movement.
One of my favorite moments from the webinar was a quote by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl of the National Writing Project (16:31).
Screen Shot 2016-12-03 at 7.12.41 PM.png
Her quote shows a mentality shift about writing that society needs to embrace. I often find that students have a reluctance to write, feeling that their writing cannot be good enough. Personally, even though I have engaged in writing for years, outside of academic purposes, I still do not consider myself a “writer.” Eidman-Aadahl’s argues that anyone can write. Being a writer is not about a label placed upon you but about the process itself. Participants of the DIY movement do not wait for someone to tell them that they are a baker before they begin making those cupcakes. In the same respect, we need to push our students to write. We need to show them that writing is also a craft, a skill that can be learned. We need to teach them how to value the final product, and to show off their writing just as they show off that model car they built. Writing, too can be creative and full of passion. As teachers, we need to make this space in our classrooms. If we give students enough structured freedom to explore this notion of writing as a DIY movement, we may just find that they start to call themselves writers.
While the “Writing as Making” video showed a new vision of writing and how we frame it, our second article jumped back in time. K.B. Yancey’s piece, “Writing Assessment in the Early 21st Century,” provided a historical background of how writing assessment has changed since the last century, leading up to a discussion of the current movement. The first wave focused on high-stakes testing. Then, in the 70s and 80s, holistic scoring emerged as a result of more teachers engaging in the scoring process. Next, the 20th century concluded with a focus on multiple texts and portfolio assessments. Writing-across-the-curriculum and program assessments also became popular. The current movement is not as easily summarized. Yancey describes three key themes including:
  • Learning outcomes linked to assessment
  • Emphasis on program assessment
  • Critical analysis of portfolios
Working in a public school, I see all three themes as being major influences in our education of students. I have personally participated in program evaluations and have also been part of committees that redesigned how students are assessed.
Of particular interest to me is the increased role of federal government in education. Yancey noted that during our current phase, “We have also seen the role of federal government move from a benign disinterest to a focused effort to encourage a certain view of institutions and to influence their practices” (187). With a teaching tenure of only seven years, I have never not known government influence in my profession. However, many of the teachers that I work with talk about a time period in which there were less demands on teachers outside of providing effective instruction. Many areas of education that teachers complain today about such as SGOs, Danielson rubrics, and PLCs, are the result of government mandates. I look forward to continuing to think critically about the role of assessment as I move forward in my career.

The Future: Writing as Making

Cannot believe that this is our last blog post! Luckily, we have two rich articles to discuss. Our first resource was actually a video called “Writing as Making/Making as Writing by Connected Learning TV.” Considering we live in a digital age where a wealth of information is accessible online, including a video in our reading list instead of a scholarly article was refreshing. This video came with many related links, resources and even Tweets, reflecting its connected learning concept. The focus of this webinar was discussing the connection between the Maker DIY movement and writing. The speakers framed writing as a creative process that produces a made thing, similar to the tangible objects created by the DIY movement.
One of my favorite moments from the webinar was a quote by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl of the National Writing Project (16:31).
Screen Shot 2016-12-03 at 7.12.41 PM.png
Her quote shows a mentality shift about writing that society needs to embrace. I often find that students have a reluctance to write, feeling that their writing cannot be good enough. Personally, even though I have engaged in writing for years, outside of academic purposes, I still do not consider myself a “writer.” Eidman-Aadahl’s argues that anyone can write. Being a writer is not about a label placed upon you but about the process itself. Participants of the DIY movement do not wait for someone to tell them that they are a baker before they begin making those cupcakes. In the same respect, we need to push our students to write. We need to show them that writing is also a craft, a skill that can be learned. We need to teach them how to value the final product, and to show off their writing just as they show off that model car they built. Writing, too can be creative and full of passion. As teachers, we need to make this space in our classrooms. If we give students enough structured freedom to explore this notion of writing as a DIY movement, we may just find that they start to call themselves writers.
While the “Writing as Making” video showed a new vision of writing and how we frame it, our second article jumped back in time. K.B. Yancey’s piece, “Writing Assessment in the Early 21st Century,” provided a historical background of how writing assessment has changed since the last century, leading up to a discussion of the current movement. The first wave focused on high-stakes testing. Then, in the 70s and 80s, holistic scoring emerged as a result of more teachers engaging in the scoring process. Next, the 20th century concluded with a focus on multiple texts and portfolio assessments. Writing-across-the-curriculum and program assessments also became popular. The current movement is not as easily summarized. Yancey describes three key themes including:
  • Learning outcomes linked to assessment
  • Emphasis on program assessment
  • Critical analysis of portfolios
Working in a public school, I see all three themes as being major influences in our education of students. I have personally participated in program evaluations and have also been part of committees that redesigned how students are assessed.
Of particular interest to me is the increased role of federal government in education. Yancey noted that during our current phase, “We have also seen the role of federal government move from a benign disinterest to a focused effort to encourage a certain view of institutions and to influence their practices” (187). With a teaching tenure of only seven years, I have never not known government influence in my profession. However, many of the teachers that I work with talk about a time period in which there were less demands on teachers outside of providing effective instruction. Many areas of education that teachers complain today about such as SGOs, Danielson rubrics, and PLCs, are the result of government mandates. I look forward to continuing to think critically about the role of assessment as I move forward in my career.

The Future: Writing as Making

Cannot believe that this is our last blog post! Luckily, we have two rich articles to discuss. Our first resource was actually a video called “Writing as Making/Making as Writing by Connected Learning TV.” Considering we live in a digital age where a wealth of information is accessible online, including a video in our reading list instead of a scholarly article was refreshing. This video came with many related links, resources and even Tweets, reflecting its connected learning concept. The focus of this webinar was discussing the connection between the Maker DIY movement and writing. The speakers framed writing as a creative process that produces a made thing, similar to the tangible objects created by the DIY movement.
One of my favorite moments from the webinar was a quote by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl of the National Writing Project (16:31).
Screen Shot 2016-12-03 at 7.12.41 PM.png
Her quote shows a mentality shift about writing that society needs to embrace. I often find that students have a reluctance to write, feeling that their writing cannot be good enough. Personally, even though I have engaged in writing for years, outside of academic purposes, I still do not consider myself a “writer.” Eidman-Aadahl’s argues that anyone can write. Being a writer is not about a label placed upon you but about the process itself. Participants of the DIY movement do not wait for someone to tell them that they are a baker before they begin making those cupcakes. In the same respect, we need to push our students to write. We need to show them that writing is also a craft, a skill that can be learned. We need to teach them how to value the final product, and to show off their writing just as they show off that model car they built. Writing, too can be creative and full of passion. As teachers, we need to make this space in our classrooms. If we give students enough structured freedom to explore this notion of writing as a DIY movement, we may just find that they start to call themselves writers.
While the “Writing as Making” video showed a new vision of writing and how we frame it, our second article jumped back in time. K.B. Yancey’s piece, “Writing Assessment in the Early 21st Century,” provided a historical background of how writing assessment has changed since the last century, leading up to a discussion of the current movement. The first wave focused on high-stakes testing. Then, in the 70s and 80s, holistic scoring emerged as a result of more teachers engaging in the scoring process. Next, the 20th century concluded with a focus on multiple texts and portfolio assessments. Writing-across-the-curriculum and program assessments also became popular. The current movement is not as easily summarized. Yancey describes three key themes including:
  • Learning outcomes linked to assessment
  • Emphasis on program assessment
  • Critical analysis of portfolios
Working in a public school, I see all three themes as being major influences in our education of students. I have personally participated in program evaluations and have also been part of committees that redesigned how students are assessed.
Of particular interest to me is the increased role of federal government in education. Yancey noted that during our current phase, “We have also seen the role of federal government move from a benign disinterest to a focused effort to encourage a certain view of institutions and to influence their practices” (187). With a teaching tenure of only seven years, I have never not known government influence in my profession. However, many of the teachers that I work with talk about a time period in which there were less demands on teachers outside of providing effective instruction. Many areas of education that teachers complain today about such as SGOs, Danielson rubrics, and PLCs, are the result of government mandates. I look forward to continuing to think critically about the role of assessment as I move forward in my career.