Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Writing Samples




       Writing samples are one of the first tasks I ask my students to do upon returning to school. For new students, it gives me an idea of their written language skills. For returning students, it gives me a chance to see their progress from the previous year. When I first started out, I'd typically ask students to write about their summer. It seemed easy enough, but to be honest, didn't really give me enough information. Then, for the past few years, I've shown students two pictures and asked them to write a story based on one of the pictures. Having them generate a narrative guaranteed I'd get a decent amount of writing, and students generally enjoying being creative. It was also a perfect assessment of their story grammar. 

       As the school year started though, I wanted to rethink my writing sample procedure. I came across a few articles that stressed the importance of expository discourse. 

        According to this article, “expository discourse, the use of language to convey information, is particularly worthy of attention because it is the predominant genre used in the classroom beginning in fourth grade and continuing through high school (Nippold & Scott, 2010). During these years, students are expected to use expository discourse when writing term papers, essays, and reports that focus on complex topics in disciplines such as biology, economics, history, and social studies. Success with expository discourse requires, among many things, a more sophisticated level of syntactic development than do other genres..."

       Several of the articles go on to say that in order to explain the complex ideas required in expository discourse, one must have complex language. As SLP's this makes so much sense, and taking a sample of this type of writing can really shed some light on our students. It also gives us an idea of how they might function in the classroom.

        Based on this, I decided to change up my prompts. I was able to find some great ideas here. I gave my students three options based on those examples. If you're curious, I chose the following (PS: remove the word "essay" so your students don't freak like mine did haha. I asked for a full page, but accepted half a page because....middle school):

Girls and boys often enjoy playing the same sport. Some people believe that girls and boys should be able to play on the same team. What is your opinion on this issue? Write an essay stating your opinion and supporting it with convincing reasons. Be sure to explain your reasons in detail.

Your principal has asked students to suggest a school rule that should be changed. Think of one rule that you would like to have changed. Write a letter convincing your principal that this rule should be changed. Be sure to support your opinion with convincing reasons and evidence. 

Your school principal is considering a new policy that will require all students to wear uniforms. What is your position concerning this issue? Write a letter to your principal stating your position and supporting it with convincing reasons. Be sure to explain your reasons in detail. [For this one, I told students they could focus on either not having any hw, or being able to use their cell phone in school]

       I have to say, the response to having to write based on one of these prompts wasn't so bad. Many students felt passionate about school uniforms or not having any HW, so I got some decent samples!

So what exactly am I assessing? Here are just some skills that I typically lookout for:
  • Sentence structure: Do they use a variety of complex/compound, or mostly simple sentences?Are they using run-ons or fragments?)
  • Vocabulary/semantics: Are they using a variety of words to express their ideas? Do they repeat ideas throughout their essay? Do they use precise vocabulary, or stick to words like "stuff" and "things?"
  • Use of transition words
  • Punctuation/capitalization 
  • Ability to provide sufficient reasons and explanations
  • Writing stamina: How much did they write in the given time frame? Were they able to write at least a page?
  • Organization/cohesion: Do their ideas flow from one to the next? Am I able to follow their logic?
There you have it! I hope this helps you get started with collecting samples from your students. If you're doing something different, I'd love to hear about it! 

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or comments!
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