Posted in general education, literacy, mind, special education

A Simple Scoring Rubric for Writing

Teaching and Assessing Writing

In my teaching career, I’ve taught preschool through adult education. Writing, of course, happens in every age group.

I also have certifications, and have taken educational coursework, that taught me how to “teach” writing at all those ages. And what I’ve learned contradicts itself!

When kids are in preschool, we work on letter formation and sounds, drawing colorful pictures to tell a story, and getting kids to use symbols to represent ideas and sounds. We are excited when they “write” stories, and encourage them to use symbols of any type to communicate.

When kids enter the elementary grades, we give them writing prompts. We teach them how to elaborate, how to develop a narrative, how to provide important details. We tell them that “spelling, punctuation and capitalization don’t count.” We continue focusing on the content of the writing and the development of “story” through the middle grades.

Then kids hit high school. And we ding kids for not spelling correctly, using punctuation appropriately, and capitalizing proper nouns.

And think about the last time you received something written by an adult, and you discovered a “there/their/they’re” error. Just one. What did you think of that adult? I recall receiving an invoice for having my pipes thawed from a big name plumbing company, and the plumber had written the service as “thrall pipes.” His plumbing work might have been excellent, but what impression do you think I got about that plumber, and the company?

Writing is a complex process for students… and challenging for teachers to score. {Image Credit (c) 2013 Kim M. Bennett}

We’ve Been Scoring Writing All Wrong…

Too often, while kids are younger, we tell them that the mechanics of writing don’t count. We do this from a well-meaning place, for we don’t want them to interrupt the flow of ideas because they are worried about spelling. Their short response work, if it is graded at all, is based on a 0-1-2 score (not answered / partially answered / fully answered). And writing prompts are usually a 12-point assessment of the development of the essay or narrative. Yet, we give the kids spelling tests where the kids must spell the words correctly in isolation, then tell them, where it REALLY counts  – in their writing – that, well… it doesn’t.

We continue to ask teens and young adults to respond in writing, and focus on the development of the answer. But, by the time they are grown, and they continue to show errors in spelling, grammar or other conventions, we look at them and say, “She’s a terrible speller,” and then don’t teach spelling any more.

Think about the student you have who struggles with any of these conventions of writing. We tell him spelling doesn’t count, but he doesn’t know how to get past that. Let me tell you, by the time that this student is in 10th grade, he will be paralyzed by not being able to spell, and will refuse to write a word without a teacher telling him how to spell everything. And, at this point, when the student is filling out job applications and writing letters to universities, these things, sadly, DO count.

Additionally, telling students not to worry about writing conventions also assumes that a student’s main obstacle to successful writing is developing the actual “guts” of the writing piece – not simply starting the writing process. The students in that “zero” pile (ones who have little or no written response on their papers) are left at the starting line when we ignore the above causes for poor writing performance. And most writing lessons focus on the development of writing, not the actual event of putting your pen to paper and beginning it.

The development of the written piece, writing mechanics, question analysis and writing strategies are often taught, and evaluated, separately. {Image credit (c) 2011 Kim M. Bennett}

The Four C’s: Creating a Balanced Scoring Rubric for Writing

A colleague of mine once let me borrow a stamp that she had used to grade summaries. It used a simple 10-pt scored that broke the written summary into four discrete areas that covered all the bases in writing. I liked it so much, that I developed a simple, balanced scoring rubric for teaching students what well-written response work was. It also allowed me to identify a specific writing focus so that we could take baby steps toward becoming confident writers.

ComponentMax PointsDescription What it Assesses
Complete3All parts of the question or prompt are addressedAbility to analyze a question or prompt and comprehend it, in order to form a response
Correct3The question or prompt is answered correctlyMastery of curricular content
Content2The focus skill or strategy is demonstratedMastery of the taught learning strategy or skill
Conventions2The response demonstrates the targeted writing mechanics focusMastery of the taught writing mechanics skill

I have found this scoring system so helpful with writers of all ages and abilities, because it takes the very complex writing process and helps the students (and me!) focus on the specific set of skills and strategies that I have been teaching them for that instructional segment. It also keeps me focused when I’m grading (grading writing can be hard!).

This rubric is also helpful when I’m monitoring IEP goals and objectives, too, as I can customize a student’s rubric to his or her writing goals.

The proper writing rubric can quickly score any type of written response work, in any content area. {Image Credit (c) 2013, Kim M. Bennett}

The Four Cs Rubric in Action: Earth Science

Let’s demonstrate the use of this rubric to evaluate student response work in a high school Earth Science class. Examples are given based on the question type.

Text-Dependent Question, Type I: “Right There” Questions

“Which ancient civilization’s calendar gave rise to our modern calendar?”

  • Is the response complete? This question has only one part to it. The answer should be the right TYPE.
    • 0 pts: no answer
    • 3 pts: answer given that is on-topic (NOTE: the answer might be incorrect – the answer is the Ancient Romans; students would get credit for misidentifying the culture [Ancient Greeks] but not for “IDK” or “yes”)
  • Is the response correct? This question is fact-based.
    • 0 pts: correct answer not given
    • 1 pt: student says “Gregorians” or “Julians” – not ancient cultures
    • 2 : student says “Pope Gregory” or “Julius Caesar” – individuals but not their cultures
    • 3 pts: correct answer (“Ancient Romans”) given
  • Is the skill or strategy content (let’s say, “Turn the Question Around”) demonstrated adequately?
    • 0 pts: Not attempted.
    • 1 pts: Attempted, not fully demonstrated.
    • 2 pts. Fully demonstrated.
  • Is mastery of writing conventions (e.g., spelling words correctly that are in the question) demonstrated?
    • 0 pts: 5 or more errors
    • 1 pt: 2-4 errors
    • 2 pts: 0-1 error

This is just an example. You will adjust the rubric to reflect your own students and teaching. Below are examples with questions of other question types (NOTE: the scoring for Content and Conventions will remain the same as the above example).

Text-Dependent Question, Type II: “Read and Find Out” Questions

“What advantage did Galileo have over the astronomers that went before him, and how did it help him?”

  • Is the response complete? This question has two parts to it: mentioning use of telescopes, and what it showed Galileo about celestial objects
    • 0 pts: no parts answered
    • 1.5 pts: one part answered
    • 3 pts: both parts answered
  • Is the response correct? This question is fact-based, but requires more extended reading, and a comparison.
    • 0 pts: no part answered correctly
    • 1 pt: one part answered correctly
    • 2 pts: both parts answered correctly
    • 3 pts: both parts answered correctly, with explicit comparison made

Text-Dependent Question, Type III: “Author and Me” Questions

“ANALYZING RELATIONSHIPS. Is Copernicus’s theory completely correct? Why or why not? How does his theory relate to what we know today about the sun’s position in our Solar System and in the Universe?”

  • Is the response complete? This question has four parts to it.
    • 0 pts: no parts answered
    • 1 pts: one part answered
    • 2 pts: two parts answered
    • 3 pts: 3-4 parts answered
  • Is the response correct? This question, as stated in the text, is an analysis of the overall ideas presented in the section. It requires the student to pull in his or her background knowledge about the Solar System and the Universe. It is easier to score the parts then total the points.
    • Part 1: “Is Copernicus’s theory completely correct?”  – The answer is no. (1 pt)
    • Part 2: “Why or why not?” – Although a helocentrist, Copernicus thought the Sun was the center of the whole Universe, not the Solar System (1 pt)
    • Part3 & 4: “How does his theory relate to what we know today about the Sun’s position in our Solar System and in the Universe?” – 1) Modern telescopes, computer modeling, and photography have confirmed the Sun’s position at the center of the Solar System ~ 2) We also know that each star represents another Solar System, with movements that confirm Copernicus’s theory ~ 3) The same technology also has shown that there are many solar systems in many galaxies, and that our Sun is near the edge of an expanding Universe. (0.5 pts each for reference to technology, the position of the Sun in the center of the Solar System, and the size and nature of the Universe – potential for 0.5 bonus points).
The same rubric can be used to score writing across all content areas. {Image Credit (c) 2012, Kim M. Bennett}

Hints for Scoring Written Responses

As a teacher, I found it helpful to take the assessment along with my students – I recommend you do this, as well. It will allow you to catch mistakes or typos (it always happens), and you can write out the answer YOU expected to see, making it easier to score when you correct your students’ work.

Don’t use this rubric to score everything the students write. Choose one assignment a week as a writing assessment. Use the results to guide your writing instruction, but not necessarily as a grade.

Download a Free Copy of the Scoring Rubric

Try this rubric out with your students. Download the directions for the rubric, and a blank copy of the rubric. You can write in your own focus areas in the proper columns, and change them as you need to.

Please feel free to comment, below, if you’d like tips on identifying a focus for your writing, or on how to score a written response. I’d love to help!

The 4 C’s Scoring Rubric for Writing – Directions

The 4 C’s Scoring Rubric for Writing – Template (pdf)

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Mom of four, Nana to seven, homeschooler, special educator, and lover of all good things... striving to do His work every day.

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