When students score their own work using elementary writing rubrics, they deepen their understanding of the writing process and increase their confidence as authors.
From a teacher’s perspective, there is a rubric available for nearly any scoring scenario, either online or through your state or district. The most effective approach, however, is to enable children to score their own writing using a kid-friendly approach.
Why? In order to become better writers, children must learn to evaluate their own work.
Video tips: using a writing rubric with students
Writing rubrics step-by-step
Using all parts of an elementary writing rubric when self-scoring can be very overwhelming to students. There are so many things to assess:
- conventions (punctuation)
And grammar alone can include eight different sub-areas! So focus is important.
I have children score all the same items that I score when they produce a final piece of writing. But this is not an approach to take for every piece of practice work because it is very involved.
So we use the full rubric, but break it up and focus on one part at a time during most writing sessions.
Step-by-step through self-scoring
Before students begin scoring their own personal work using an elementary writing rubric, it is best to have them practice scoring other work. The most effective approach is to put an example of writing up on the screen, then explain the criteria you are focusing on and score the piece together.
Step 1: define the scoring focus
The first step in the process is to explain the scoring focus for the day in language that the children can understand. For example:
“Today we are going to look at how well the author focused his writing. Did he stay on topic and use amazing details that help explain his ideas? Or did the author wander all over, never really getting to the point?”
Step 2: score as a group
The second step in the process is to look at student writing samples together and score them as a class by applying the scoring focus.
Sometimes we do this as a whole group in front of the Smart board where we read together, discuss and mark up the text. Other times I hand out copies for students to read and mark up, then we come together to share and mark up on the Smart board.
Step 3: partner scoring
The final step is for the students to look at their own work and score it. This is most effectively done with a partner. Both kids look at one writer's work and apply the elementary writing rubric, then switch roles.
Video tips: student self-scoring process
Making it work in your classroom
The key to effective student scoring is to emphasize that the kids must look for evidence in the text to support their scoring of their partner. This can be managed through the use of a peer feedback form. Something like this:
This form guides the students in explaining two things that the other person did well, and two questions that the scoring student has about the piece of work that their partner completed.
In my experience it is not effective to have students simply outline things that should be improved. First of all, you will always have some great writers who simply score perfectly and can’t really improve upon their work.
Secondly, it puts the children in the position of being critical and in the position of being criticized, which is a great way to shut down their willingness to participate.
It is much more effective for a child to simply come up with questions that the piece of writing generates in her mind. Students might ask why the author made certain style choices or a student may be confused about the topic and will ask clarifying questions.
Great questions make kids think
I have experienced students asking these great questions:
“Why did you keep saying ‘Did you know?'”
“Why didn't you use question marks?”
Both of these questions led the author to some needed revisions. Other great questions I have seen:
“How did you choose the topic?”
“Next time, I wonder if you could include more information about…”
An elementary writing rubric is a powerful tool for improving student skills. Used correctly in a self-scoring process, it will reinforce things they are doing right, and gently point out things to improve upon.
Effective teacher scoring and feedback
Rubrics are simply tools. As with any tool, it's very important to learn how to use them for greatest impact on student development in the language arts… and how they can provide specific student feedback.
When to score
I’m a strong believer in providing feedback on every piece of writing that my students complete in my classroom. Even student journals.
It's not necessary to actually score every piece of writing using a rubric, but it is very important for them to hear back from their teacher about the effort that they have put into the assignment.
Video tips: providing writing feedback
Never forget that writing is very difficult for all people — especially children — to master. So we want to take the time to reinforce what has been learned and gently correct that which needs more emphasis.
Having children put so much effort into an assignment as difficult as writing and then not giving them some kind of feedback will diminish their willingness to work on the topic in the future.
How to score
Writing is as difficult to grade as it is to produce. As noted above, writing rubrics are quite comprehensive, covering topics from punctuation and spelling through style and grammar.
Because of that, it is often necessary to read the same piece of writing several times, each time looking for a particular aspect and finding evidence in the text to support your assessment.
This is the reason why every single piece of writing really cannot be scored rigorously using a rubric. The “full effort” is usually reserved for unit assessments or benchmark writing assignments.
Working with a teaching partner
It can be much easier to apply elementary writing rubrics to student work if you arrange to work with another teacher. When each of you read the same piece of writing, it has a synergistic effect that allows you to provide more effective feedback to your students.
It's also motivating to work with another person with whom you can talk through particular difficulties you're having in deciding between one score or another.
And frankly, it lessens the drudgery of correcting large stacks of multi-page writing assignments!
Providing writing feedback
Kids love to get notes from their teachers! My children scramble to get their assignments out of their mailboxes as soon as they have the chance. Why? Because I write engaging and personal notes on all of the work they turn in.
Teacher notes on writing assignments should not read like text from the rubric you used. Instead, they should be provided in kid-friendly language and be factual and encouraging.
Take a look at the examples I provide on this page.
Sometimes, even our very best students need to be encouraged to work harder. If you do see a distinct lack of effort on a writing assignment, then it is time to leave a note that you know a particular student can work harder.
I’ve had these written conversations with some of my highest performing kids through the years, and it always makes a big – and very necessary – impact.
Elementary writing rubrics have great power to create talented authors in our classrooms. The trick is in how we apply them. With care and attention to detail, they become tremendous tools for effective feedback to our elementary students.