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Writing Assessment Rubric: An Instructional Approach with Struggling Writers

Schirmer, B. F., & Bailey, J. (2000). Writing assessment rubric: An instructional approach for struggling writers. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(1), 52-58.

Abstracted by Barbara Higgins-Dover

In this article we read about the struggle some children face with writing because of difficulties using the English language. The authors discuss writing approaches and present the idea of using an assessment rubric to enhance the writing skills of these students. A universal-type rubric is provided and can be seen in Table 1, with modifications to the universal-type rubric seen in Table 2. Several other rubrics are included which incorporate stages of writing, rubrics for mysteries, and rubrics for research reports into the reading. In the final section of the article, final thoughts are presented.

Product vs. Process Writing: Since the 1980's teachers have taught writing by focusing on student thought. Little instructional time has been devoted to teaching students the rules and qualities of writing. The authors therefore, ask the question, "should teachers of struggling writers return to instructional approaches often characterized as product approaches?"

Assessment Tool or Instructional Strategy? In this section of the article the authors discuss the idea of using rubrics to assess student performance, and suggest that the rubric has value both as an assessment tool and an instructional strategy. One example referred to as the "Six-Trait Analytic Scale" is described and identifies the writing traits of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.

Using the strategy with Students who are Deaf: A discussion is included, which focuses on using the writing assessment rubric with students who are deaf. Two classes are considered at a language arts school in Oregon. The findings suggest that use of the rubric as a teaching strategy for these students, significantly impacts some traits. These students improved in providing clear topics and content, developing stories with clear and relevant descriptions, and using organizational structures that were logical and balanced. However, some traits were not influenced including following the same text structure, demonstrating and understanding of the audience, word choice, grammatically correct sentencing, and the avoidance of errors in mechanics.

Modifications of the Strategy: Conclusions are made about how the rubric can help students who are struggling with writing. However, as realized in the deaf classrooms, the rubric could not address individual student needs and goals. Modifications had to be made to accommodate differences in students, content, assignments, and curriculum. Differences between a student with limited English proficiency are compared to students with expressive language difficulties, such as with the students who are deaf.

Rubrics for Instruction, Creating and using them: In this section we read about the development of the rubric for instruction, and what the teacher needs to consider. Identifying the qualities of writing, creating a scale, and defining each quality by listing the characteristics are provided as necessary steps in development. Additional traits that the teacher may want to consider include ideas, sentence fluency, purpose, complexity, and form. Each of these is defined and can be added to the rubric found in Table 2.

Final Thoughts: Benefits of using the instructional rubric are incorporated into the last section of the article. A discussion of the example rubrics is included, as well as areas in which the clear instruction on qualities of writing can be used.

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