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Old Way

We have all been there; a stack of essays that need to be graded in front of us and a red, green or purple pen (yes, I said red).  We sit at the kitchen table or in the office with a cup of coffee, tea, or a favorite beverage.  We adjust the stack of papers one last time, take a deep breath and begin to correct.  We correct and mark misspelled words, poor punctuation and capitalization. We comment on organization, content and voice, and at the end of it all, we score the paper based on our trusted rubric that has 5 or 6 clear-cut categories (Voice, Organization, Mechanics, Word choice, Fluency, to name a few). We then return the papers and rubrics expecting our students to be able to read the colorful mess full of corrections and comments, decipher the rubric, and revise the paper.  Did I paint a clear picture?


The course that I teach, Spanish for Heritage Speakers, is a course designed for newly arrived Latino student into the country.  Our main objective is to improve student literacy skills in Spanish.  I have a wide range of abilities from students who struggle with reading and writing in their native language to those that are very literate. It has traditionally been a course that is driven by a variety of fictional readings from a textbook, short stories, novels, and poems. Since the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, I am currently revamping the curriculum and my units of study around specific skills that are important for students to be able to do.  Instead of moving through the traditional content on the textbook, I have chosen content that matches the skills being learned.  In addition to using various readings from the text, I have also pulled content off the Internet and other sources to include current and relevant topics.  During this school year, the students have shown proficiency in the follow major Common Core skills:

-Citing strong and thorough evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text

-Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient

-Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence

-Demonstrate command of the conventions of the Spanish language, including capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing

New Way

We just finished a unit on writing summarizes, a difficult concept for many of my students.  During the unit, we practiced writing summaries many times, during class-time and for homework.  I modeled summary writing, we assessed examples or poorly and well-written summaries and we wrote summarizes together.  We read short stories and articles and summarized the contents in chunks.  Students worked individually, with partners and in groups.  I assessed their skills by reading their summaries outside of class-time and by walking around the classroom as they were working alone and in groups, making quick spot checks. 

The Key

We tend to grade everything in an essay, from grammar, punctuation, spelling, organization, and content.  But, this is time-consuming and in reality the students are truly not focused enough to soak in all the errors they have made at once in the various categories.  Instead, the key to grading writing is to focus in on one particular skill your students are working on. In this case, my final assessment will show my students’ ability to write a summary based on a new piece of work they have not seen.  This is the only way to truly gauge student proficiency of a particular skill.  So as we are moving along the unit, students are practicing this skill through a variety of ways in and out of class with the end result to become proficient in writing an efficient summary of a piece of text. 

I am not advocating for the abandonment of essays with multi-dimensional scoring rubrics. There is a place for them in the curriculum, perhaps once per quarter.  I am asking that we focus our writing assignments to the skill being learned.  Only then can students focus in on the skill being mastered.

By subscribing to our blog, you will receive our free e-book titled Overview of SACI. SACI (Standards, Assessments, Curriculum, Instruction) is our unit design process to create units of study around the Common Core State Standards.