Guidance Towards Mastery: Utilization of Effective Feedback, Standards-Based Grading, and Self-Evaluation of Formative Assessments

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Guidance Towards Mastery: Utilization of Effective Feedback, Standards-Based Grading, and Self-Evaluation of Formative Assessments

  • OCTOBER 14, 2015

Explanation of Program

A Need for Individualized, Focused Instruction in Writing

  • In producing individuals who are ready for college and the workplace, an emphasis on students becoming writers who can effectively communicate a message with the correct use of grammar, organization, sense of audience, and voice is imperative. The accountability in tracking improvement in writing through formative assessments provides students the tools to feel confident in mastering the variety of skills required.
  • While I employ all of the following components in my program of writing instruction, each may be used independently to augment existing programs of writing instruction. I suggest starting with 1-2 of these methods and building from there.

Essential Principles of Formative Assessment

  • Identifying the Learning Gap - Involves determining what students know, identifying what they need to know, and planning for where instruction will be most effectively implemented to meet learning goals.
  • Feedback - An ongoing conversation between student and teacher, feedback must be timely, specific, focused on a limited amount of skills (i.e., not excessive), descriptive, clear, and must identify the current status of the student’s writing, as well as the next steps in the process of learning, application, and revision.
  • Students Actively Involved in Their Own Learning - Utilizing metacognitive skills to monitor their current learning status and, if support is necessary, students work with their teacher, as well as their classmates, towards comprehension and mastery.
  • Learning Progressions -Large learning goals are broken down into subgoals that are taught in a specific sequence that lead to deeper connections and understanding and, ultimately, acquisition and mastery.
  • (“Connecting Formative Assessment Research to Practice: An Introductory Guide for Educators”)

The Benefits of the Use of Formative Writing Assessment

  • Writing improves when teachers and peers provide students with feedback about the effectiveness of their writing.
  • Writing improves when students are taught to evaluate the effectiveness of their own writing.
  • Writing improves when teachers monitor students’ progress on an ongoing basis.
  • (Graham, Harris, and Hebert)

The Role of the Teacher Using Formative Assessment

  • Before each writing assignment, the teacher needs to address the following questions:
  • What are the goals?
  • What progress has been made in achieving these goals?
  • What goals need to be set to continue growth?

The Role of the Student Using Formative Assessment

  • Peer assessment
  • Self-assessment
    • -Creation of S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) goals
    • -Writing assignment reflections
    • -Quarterly epistolary reflections (i.e., letter to the teacher)
  • Application of feedback
    • -Revision
    • -Future writing assignments

Standards-Based Grading Overview

  • YouTube video provided with permission by ActiveGrade/Haiku Learning.
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Standards-Based Grading Scale

  • 4
  • Advanced
  • Strong evidence is shown that the student can teach what was
  • learned to someone else; student is fully independent.
  • 3
  • Proficient
  • 2
  • Basic
  • Student has shown some evidence that they can do or understand what was learned, but there are large gaps in their knowledge; guidance and support are necessary to complete tasks.
  • 1
  • Developing
  • Student has shown little evidence that they can do or understand
  • what was learned; even with guidance and support, tasks are unmanageable.

Writing Process Using Outcomes-Based Curriculum, Standards-Based Grading, and Formative Assessment

  • Table of Contents Page
  • Writing Outcomes 11-12
  • Content Mastery Rubric 13-14
  • Content Mastery Rubric +Additional Skills 15-16
  • Peer Assessment and Reflection 17-18
  • Writing Data Tracking (Teacher) 19-20
  • Writing Data Tracking of Individual Student 21-22
  • Feedback 23-24
  • Common Issues and Mistakes 25-26
  • Writing Data Tracking (Student) 27-28
  • Writing Reflection 29-30
  • Revision Conferencing 31
  • Quarterly Reflection on Writing 32-34
  • Writing SOL Prompts 35-36

Writing Outcomes

  • The Standards of Learning have been disaggregated to specific components within composition, research, usage, and mechanics standards.
  • Rationale:
  • These allow for explicit application of newly acquired writing skills or remediation of those skills already in use.

Content Mastery Rubric

  • This constitutes the basic skill set for all persuasive writing assignments. Additionally, this is the core of every rubric that students will receive over the course of the year in each of their other classes, as well.
  • Rationale:
  • These skills focus on the construction of a persuasive essay concentrating on organization, clarity, and flow.

Content Mastery Rubric + Additional Skills

  • In addition to the 6 skills contained in the Content Mastery Rubric, each assignment will also have 3-4 additional skills that have been newly taught in class prior to each writing assignment.
  • Rationale:
  • Students will be provided with the opportunity to apply newly acquired learning of the correct uses of construction, grammar, and usage. Students will only be accountable for these writing outcomes standards on their rubrics.

Peer Assessment and Reflection

  • Students are to assemble into heterogeneous groups of 4 and are provided with a different colored grading pen (e.g., black, blue, green, and red). Students are then assigned a specific editing task: One student is responsible for the introduction and the conclusion, while each of the other 3 students are responsible for 1 specific body paragraph. Students are then provided with 5 minutes to review a group member's essay and are responsible for editing and commenting on the paragraph(s) that have been assigned to them. As the introduction and the conclusion are the most important paragraphs in establishing comprehension of the prompt/question, as well as setting the organization and, later, conclusive reflection, I rely on the student in each group that is not only strongest in their writing skills, but also apt in the teaching of other students. When students finish their Peer Assessment and Reflection form, they are encouraged to read other sections of their peer's paper, as well as edit and provide feedback.  Providing these marks with different pens alleviates confusion. Rationale: This process allows each student a variety of additional feedback that, when applied to the final draft, help to strengthen and correct writing assignments before they are turned in.

Writing Data Tracking (Teacher)

  • After grading a student’s essay, I complete the rubric, on which I record the 6 core skills of the Content Mastery Rubric.
  • Rationale:
  • In keeping a record of students’ scores on each writing assignment, I am able to recognize areas that students are having difficulties in grasping and am able to then provide support and remediation. Students will also record their scores on a similar rubric that is attached to their writing folder and kept in the classroom.

Example: Writing Data Tracking of Individual Student

  • I also compile a list of skills that need to be addressed that are more specific than that which is allowed on the Content Mastery Rubric (e.g., disorganization of assertions in thesis statement). I then read my notes and data from each student’s prior essays before reading their most current essay, so I am aware of the specific areas of improvement and areas where the skills still need further understanding or tightening.
  • Rationale:
  • The data and my notes allow me to individualize my feedback to each student, as well as create accountability for the student in following through with additional learning and revision. When I see that a student has reached mastery of the basic skills of composition, I then begin to focus on other areas that need to be addressed. For students who excel at writing and master each of the writing outcomes standards, I then have them exercise additional skills in employing more complex sentence structures, word choice, voice, figurative language, etc.

Example: Feedback

  • In providing feedback, I first note the positives of their writing, especially areas of improvement. I then specifically discuss any areas from the Content Mastery Rubric that need correction. If the student has worked to mastery with each of the 6 basic skills of the composition category, I move to their newly acquired skills that were recently added to their rubric and provide specific identification of the issues. For example, a student receiving a "2" for "Formulating Arguments" may mean any number of things. However, by providing the specifics behind the grade, the student would know that they received a "2" as a result of not reverting to their original argument at the end of their counter-argument.
  • Rationale: I am also able to use the data from past papers as a means of accountability: If students are continually making similar errors in successive writing assignments that are preventing them from progressing with one or more of their writing skills, I am able to discuss this here.

Common Issues and Mistakes

  • While I am grading essays, I keep a running list of the errors that I see. I then compile a list of the most common errors with brief explanations as to the correct use of the skill, any tricks or shortcuts, reiteration of specific grammar rules, etc.
  • Rationale:
  • This allows the students further understanding of how to correct their own work. Additionally, if I am seeing universal issues with a newly introduced disaggregated writing outcomes standard, I will repeat the expectation of comprehension and correct application by addressing this skill on their next rubric.

Writing Data Tracking (Student)

  • Upon the return of their essays, students are then to fill out two forms that will be placed in their writing folder. This folder is kept in the classroom and holds all of their writing assignments and data tracking. The first of these is the Writing Data Tracking, which holds each of the 6 core skills of the Content Mastery Rubric and is something that the students update with each graded assignment.
  • Rationale:
  • Students are able to track their own data and identify the areas with which they are improving, as well as those that need further focus in their future writing assignments.

Writing Reflection

  • In addition to completion of the Writing Data Tracking, students are to reflect on their writing using the Writing Reflection.
  • Rationale:
  • This process of reflection allows students the opportunity to be aware of the strengths in their writing, as well as identifying one specific skill towards which they will direct considerable effort in their next writing assignment. Further, they are to provide the steps they will take.

Revision Conferencing

  • After students receive graded writing assignments, they are also to make corrections to their papers, which requires them to use my comments and suggestions to fix any problems or issues when writing a new draft. The student is then to conference with me one-on-one, which involves them walking me through their revised essay.
  • Rationale:
  • This one-on-one time is extremely valuable in the process of correcting mistakes made in a student’s writing. I often ask for the rationales of corrections made to individual mistakes to ensure that comprehension of their correction took place. Should misunderstanding of a skill still exist, this time allows for individual remediation and assistance.

Quarterly Reflection on Writing

  • Students also assess their writing through the use of the Quarterly Reflection on Writing, which allows them to reflect on the past quarter in the form of a letter to me. In the letter, they are to discuss their strengths as a writer at that point in the school year, as well as the writing goals that they are still working to perfect for the next quarter. These essays are read by me and are then passed back to students to be kept in their writing folders.
  • Rationale:
  • This is an additional opportunity for the student to reflect on the process of writing and their efforts in becoming a stronger writer, as well as identification of existing areas with which they struggle. This allows for me to further individualize my support and methods of remediation.

Student Artifact: Quarterly Reflection on Writing

  • This letter of reflection was written by one of my students.

Writing SOL Essay Prompts

  • While not a part of the specific writing process provided in this presentation, this is an additional formative assessment activity that focuses on the Standards of Learning End-of- Course Writing Test essay prompts.
  • Rationale:
  • This everyday warm-up provides students the practice necessary in learning how to independently unpack each prompt, create a workable thesis statement, and formulate a counter-argument. While a majority of my students are still learning the writing process, they are often further hampered in comprehending what a prompt may be asking, as well as how to address it. In my classes, this is treated as a competition: The first student who successfully completes unpacking the prompt, creating a workable thesis statement, as well as a counter-argument, receives a motivational pencil and their name on a section of the wall entitled, “SOL Prompt Superstars.” The student then writes their reinterpreted question, thesis statement, and counter-argument on the board for the other students to see. Each student then has their own question reinterpretation, thesis statement, and counter-argument graded by me before their next class. Each prompt that needs work receives a Post-It attached to their packet detailing the specific prompt number and whatever issues need to be fixed. Students then make these corrections on their own time and go over them with me one-on-one when they are completed.


  • Individualized, focused instruction of writing is a continuous process of gathering evidence, evaluation, and modifying instruction for all students.
  • Frequency of formative assessments, engagement in forms of student self-evaluations, and teachers effectively assessing learning progressions are critical in ensuring growth in students’ writing.
  • Informing instruction for teachers, closing achievement gaps, and supporting students in attaining the specific skills necessary for effective writing requires flexibility, monitoring students’ progress, noting trends, and setting realistic goals.
  • (Madison-Harris, Muoneke, and Times)

Works Cited

  • Alvarez, L., Ananda, S., Walqui, A., Sato, E., and Rabinowitz, S. “Focusing Formative Assessment on the Needs of English Language Learners.” WestEd (2014). Web. 4 May 2015.
  • “Assessing Student Writing.”  University of Nebraska–Lincoln. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2015.
  • Black, P. and Wiliam, D. “Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment.” King’s College, 1998. Web. 21 July 2015.
  • “Connecting Formative Assessment Research to Practice: An Introductory Guide for Educators.”   Learning Point Associates (2009). N.p., n.d. Web. 11 April 2015.
  • Dunn, Karee E and Mulvenon, Sean W. “A Critical Review of Research on Formative Assessments: The Limited Scientific Evidence of the Impact of Formative Assessments in Education.” Practical Assessment Research & Evaluation, 14(7) (2009). Web. 10 April 2015.
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., and Hebert, M. A. "Informing Writing: A Report from Carnegie Corporation of New York The Benefits of Formative Assessment."  JSTOR. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2015.
  • Greenstein, Laura. What Teachers Really Need to Know About Formal Assessment. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2010. Print.
  • Madison-Harris, Robyn, Muoneke, Ada, and Times, Chris. “Using Formative Assessment to Improve Student Achievement in the Core Content Areas.” Southeast Comprehensive Center (2012). Web. 21 July 2015.
  • Marzano, Robert J.  Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Grading. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory, 2010. Print.
  • “Standards-Based Grading Overview.” ActiveGrade, 2012. Online video clip. YouTube. Web. 27 July 2015.
  • Sturgis, C. “Progress and Proficiency: Redesigning Grading for Competency Education. “ International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2014. Web. 21 July 2015.
  • Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy. “Fact Sheet: Formative Assessment.” Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, 2014. Web. 21 July 2015.
  • Townsley, Matt. “What is the Difference Between Standards-Based Grading (or Reporting) and Competency-Based Education?” International Association for K-12 Online Learning, 2014. Web. 21 July 2015.


  • Reference within this presentation to any specific commercial or non-commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer or otherwise does not constitute or imply an endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the Virginia Department of Education.

Contact Information

  • Kirsten von Topel
  • T.C. Williams High School
  • International Academy
  • Alexandria, VA

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