Differentiated Assessment of Student Writing in an English Class

[In order to align myself fully with the vision of the school, I will need to improve my ability to differentiate instruction. As part of my self-reflection on this topic, not only am I thinking about areas where my teaching practice may be deficient (or more generously, ready for rethinking), but I am also thinking about areas where I may have done things as a teacher that already represent differentiated instruction well. Responding to the individual needs of students is nothing new to sound teaching practice, but the bar is moving up pertaining the level of attentiveness teachers need to pay to pedagogies incorporating differentiation. I find this exciting.

Successful writing teachers must differentiate based on the needs of individual writers. As this may be an easier concept to understand in teaching writing than it is in other areas of the curriculum, it may provide a good launching pad to reflect more deeply on how to transfer the idea of differentiation to other aspects of my teaching.

I think of reading, listening, responding, speaking, and writing as parts of one process rather than distinct ends unto themselves. To simplify this idea to its most basic form: clear thinking is the central prerequisite to excellent transactional writing. To reach the point of clear thinking takes time and focus, as well as a willingness to jettison one way of approaching a topic or issue so that one might replace it with something more sound. Clear thinking AND excellent writing are thus the result of an earnest and sustained ability to refine one’s approach, position, and voice. How teachers interact with students when they are working through that process has to be differentiated in order to provide students with the specific feedback they need most. Bottom line: students need us in different ways during the writing process. 

On an exam a number of years ago for juniors in my AP Literature course, I had a section in which they had to work on revising part of an essay they had written earlier in the semester. In order to create this section of the exam, I had to determine tasks tailored to each student. I have included several examples of those individual tasks below. Individual students were only able to see his or her task: they were not able to see what I was asking of their classmates. It is interesting looking back to see that in order to create an equal level of demand for the students, I needed to create a quite diverse array of tasks.]

Paper Revision. You may use your books and notes for this section, and thus you should complete this section after you have finished the first three parts of the exam.

J.C.          You are to write the first two paragraphs from the long paper option you didn’t choose on Dubliners.  In our conversation you said that you bailed out on the topic you really wanted to write about…well…here’s your chance to show me what might have been.

B.R.         Textual Evidence—I have not been kidding about its essential part in making a successful analytical argument.  With this in mind, I want you to revise the two body paragraphs of your shorter essay on Shakespeare’s tetrology.

P.S.          I want you to revise paragraph #6 of your long essay.  It is a long paragraph that is not as cohesive as it might be.  You may break it into two paragraphs (or not) depending on your thoughts about what is best.  There is a lot of good information and thinking represented in this part of your paper, but I think the overall essay would benefit from an overhaul.

J.M.          I want you to revise paragraph #3 of your long essay.  My comments should get you started.  This paragraph is choppy and largely unpolished.  It is also apparently incomplete analytically.

3 thoughts on “Differentiated Assessment of Student Writing in an English Class

  1. J Ross Peters January 24, 2017 / 10:39 am

    Reblogged this on Ross All Over the Map and commented:

    I stumbled across this post from 2012 as I was thinking about my school’s discussion regarding differentiated instruction. I am reminded that without approaching differentiated assessment in the conversation about differentiated instruction, we will miss profound opportunities to affect learning.

    • cbtbsail January 24, 2017 / 11:44 am

      How right you are on this, Ross! I demands a great deal of effort for the teacher to be able to discern what the individual student’s need is and how to encourage them toward improvement in the needed area of instruction and to grow in understanding as a student. I am guessing that teachers with this kind of heightened awareness, sincere interest, and rigorous discipline (and enduring patience) are a rare breed. How do you encourage teachers to take on this additional instructional depth for the sake of the students?

      • J Ross Peters January 25, 2017 / 7:49 pm

        Thanks for this. I am unsure what works best as encouragement. Creating a culture of high professional expectations, hiring well, and supporting and celebrating great practice each make a difference.

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