Scaffolded Writing Assessment

In a stack of papers called Writing.

  • Sep
  • 17
  • 2007

Here’s the first thing I’m evaluating in writing: evidence. I’m practically giving them the thesis and seeing if they can find evidence to match their interpretation. We’re working with the technicolor paragraph model, something I emphasize every year and that never goes out of style. It’s a model that works on many different levels. Take a look at where I’m going.

Last Week

In groups of four, students wrote about the following, putting their final drafts onto overhead transparencies:

Agree or Disagree:

In Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour,” Louise Mallard is sad because of her husband’s death.

I had students all over the mark on this one. But I didn’t care about comprehension, I just cared that students marshaled up enough evidence to support their opinion. For the most part, that happened and I was happy with the results. However, working in groups of four, writing is almost always decent. Everyone got ten points in the gradebook for that one, under the “Classwork” category (30% of the final grade). That was the first step on the scaffold.


I pulled a few of the previous overhead transparency paragraphs. Again in groups of four, students will take two minutes to read each of eight paragraphs. Two members of the group will be on the lookout for pros and two for cons. They will quickly grade the paragraph based on the class rubric before they move that paragraph on to the next group. With any luck, this process will take only twenty minutes. For this second step on the scaffold, I have a chart for the students to fill in so they keep track of those pros and cons.


This is a short day, so we only have time to debrief the chart created on Tuesday. It would be too much to fill in the chart and discuss it on the same day unless we had a block schedule. By glancing at paragraphs on the overhead, we can solidify a few points and show specific passages that exemplify those pros or cons.


This Thursday, our third step on the scaffold, groups of two will write about the following:

Agree or Disagree:

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, Tom Buchanan believes everyone is equal.

By the opening of class on Thursday, we’re waiting to write a paragraph in a group of two that will be evaluated based on how thoroughly the topic sentence is supported by direct quotations. We’ve looked at eight examples of this. We’ve discussed what’s good and bad about the paragraphs. We’ve matched up writing to rubric descriptions. We’ve talked about what makes writing effective and not.

This is the second technicolor paragraph and it goes down in the gradebook for 20 points, still in the “Classwork” category. I plan to have that paragraph back no later than Monday with comments about the efficacy of those quotations and an evaluative score.

Next Week

With three chances to scaffold writing, we’ll roll on to our third technicolor paragraph by next Thursday. That one will be written solo and go down in the gradebook for 40 points, this time in the “Writing” category (50% of the final grade). This grade goes down as “Writing 2.2.c – Evidence.”

Evaluation Again

Taking a page from Dan, the next time I assess ability to list evidence to defend an opinion, this grade will raise to and stay at 50 points. Students will have the chance to improve this score at any time during lunch based on a new topic I give them.

The beauty of all this is that I can use the same paragraph model for various assessments. I’m using it first to gauge ability to “support important ideas and viewpoints through accurate and detailed references to the text.” Next time, I’ll use it to evaluate the ability to “structure ideas and arguments in a sustained, persuasive, and sophisticated way” (Writing 1.3, Part One – Organization). Instead of looking at the evidence used, I’ll look at the way the argument is developed throughout the paragraph. I can move this on to an evaluation of the ability to “demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the significant ideas in works or passages” (Writing 2.2.a) by modifying my prompt a bit.

I’m building the ability to do all three of these things at once. Each paragraph works as a way to evaluate one of those steps at a time. The first time through each of these assessments, they will be worth 40 points. I hope to get to the second evaluation of these skills by November and raise the scores in the gradebook to 50 points. I might have to pack all three of these into a single evaluation for that second pass. This isn’t something that I can do objective test items on.

So I’m thinking that I evaluate three skills one at a time, then evaluate all three of them again in a single evaluation. For every three skills the standards break out into, there are four evaluations. How do I explain all this to students? Or do I explain the overall idea and save them from the details? I see this explanation taking an entire class period, something I do not have and that students likely will not be interested in. Is a short “the grade will be 40 points first for familiarity of the skill and raise to 50 points to show mastery of the skill on the second assessment, after which you’ll be able to demonstrate mastery at any time during a lunch-time test” enough?

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