Student Writing: An in-depth look at the assessment and feedback process

Let’s begins this conversation with Beyond the Apple’s  video “Assessing Student Writing Through an Appreciative Lens”.

This video suggests that learning to assess student writing may begin with listening to a student’s writing before seeing a student’s writing. The writing of an elementary student is used, but the assessment practices described below can be used at any grade level.

Here’s the writing sample shown in the video:


This sample was typical of Jo’s writing; as a result, Jo, who was in grade 3, was considered to be “unable to write” and was “on the track” for an Individual Program Plan. We decided to reframe that conversation by viewing the Jo’s writing through an appreciative lens.

We asked Jo to read us her story, but she couldn’t remember it, so we asked her to tell us what she wrote about. She said, “football”.  So we gathered a group of teachers together and got to work.  We’ll be honest – even with their expertise, “uncovering” the story took some time and effort. But, let me tell you, when Jo’s story emerged, there was excitement in the room! All of a sudden, the un-decodable groups of letters became a lovely little vignette and the assessment of the Jo’s writing shifted from “can’t” to “can”.

Here’s the story:

When I made the perfect catch, it came over my shoulder and I dived and caught it. And I got the touch down.

Once we uncovered the story, we followed these steps, which demonstrate how to assess student writing with an appreciative mindset.

  • We asked a series of questions about the student’s writing, The questions were designed as an analytic assessment of the Traits of Writing.
  • We answered each question, beginning with an observation of what Jo accomplished.
  • We used this information to develop feedback to Jo, which started with an acknowledgement of what was accomplished, such as “I noticed that you . . . “ or “Your story created a picture about . . . “ or “These are interesting words . . . “
  • We provided a Jo with a suggestion about the what the next steps of instruction would include.

Here’s what that process looked like. Needless to say, not all of these suggestions will be implemented the next day. The teacher decides which next steps teaching will provide the most gain, plans an engaging lesson and then watches for evidence of learning. Chances are, one lesson will have “spill over” and success will be evident in more than one area.

1.QUESTION: By definition, writing is a means to convey thoughts through text. Does Jo understand how to convey his thoughts through text?

ANSWER: Yes, Jo knows that thoughts can be shared as words and words are conveyed through groupings of letters that are placed on a page left to right and top to bottom.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Acknowledge a detail or details in Jo’s writing.

NEXT STEPS SUGGESTION: Tell Jo that her writing creates a picture and for the next few lessons, he’ll get even better at using his writing to create pictures.

2. QUESTION: Does Jo have an idea and is he able to support that idea with relevant details?

ANSWER: Yes. The student’s focus is her perfect catch and he provides the reader with relevant details.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Share your delight in the story and ask some questions that would provide additional information about the time, location, and what happened after the touchdown

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Tell Jo that the next lesson will be about how to extending ideas to include more detail.

3. QUESTION: Does Jo share her ideas in an organized way?

ANSWER: Yes, the story is clearly sequenced from beginning to end.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Acknowledge the beginning, middle and end of the Jo’s story and how this flow helped you to picture the events happening. “Map” the ideas on a graphic organizer.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Tell Jo that she can include more ideas in his story by using a planning template (a graphic organizer focussed on organization).

4. QUESTION: Does Jo demonstrate an understanding of how ideas flow together in a variety of interesting sentences?

ANSWER: Yes. As we listen to the story, it’s clear that Jo has two distinct sentences.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Discuss the Jo’s opening sentence “When I made the perfect catch . . . ” as an interesting and engaging beginning to this narrative.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Suggest that Jo start a collection of his best opening sentences. His first entry can be “when I made the perfect catch” and he can look through his own writing to find samples of other powerful opening sentences. Over time, this can be extended to closing sentences, sentences indicating a mod change, a time change, etc.

5. QUESTION: Does Jo use a variety of words and phrases that allow the reader to become engaged in the story and visualize the actions?

ANSWER: Yes. By using the words “the perfect catch” at the beginning of the story, and then elaborating on this with “over my shoulder”, “dived and caught it”, and “touchdown”, Jo provided all the clues we needed to tell us she was playing football.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Read Jo’s story aloud and chat about how Jo’s use of words worked as “clues” to the story.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Find a favourite story and read it aloud to Jo. As the story unfolds, search for interesting words and phrases that provide clues to the story. Follow up lessons can include searching in fiction and nonfiction text for words that create impact.

6. QUESTION: Does this student use the conventions of a) spelling, b) capitalization, c) letter formation and d) punctuation


ANSWER: Some words are spelled correctly (I, the, it my, and, the). Jo’s misspellings (when, made, perfect, came, cot, got) are close approximations that indicate Jo has a developing awareness of sound symbol correspondence.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Point out the correctly spelled words to Jo and how they helped the reader to understand the message.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Find a “close to conventional” word or two and tell Jo that he was able to sound these words out, but they’re still a bit foggy. To clear up the fog, teach Jo how to check his spelling. Don’t expect checking of all words, just the ones that Jo finds interesting or will use a lot. While Jo is learning to check, provide lessons in spelling patterns.


ANSWER: The answer to this is unclear, as Jo’s use of capitals appears to be random.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Have conversation with Jo about the use of capital letters and gather information about what he knows.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Refer to the conversation above and demonstrate how to put what Jo knows about capitals into action. If knowledge of capital letters is limited, begin with the first letter of a story.

 c) LETTER FORMATION: (NOTE: letter formation is more important in some areas than in others; we’ve included it here to ensure there’s a comprehensive look at early writing conventions)

ANSWER: It’s clear what each letter is intended to be, but there is variance in size and spacing.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Tell the student that you know what each letter is, but reading his story would be easier to write and to read if letters were of a similar size and were on the line.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Ask Jo to look through a variety of texts with varying fonts and sizes. Ask Jo to search for patterns of font sizes and regularity of shape. NOTE: There comes a time when we have to stop insisting on tidy printing. In Jo’s case, conventional use of capitals and punctuation will have more impact than size and shape of letters.

d) PUNCTUATION: It appears the student is aware that periods (full stops) are used in story writing, but whether or not he understands the the purpose and location of their use is unclear.

FEEDBACK TO STUDENT: Point out Jo’s use of full stops and ask Jo why and when they’re used.

NEXT STEPS TEACHING SUGGESTION: Refer to the conversation above and demonstrate how to put what Jo knows about full stops into action. If knowledge of how full stops are used is limited, read Jo story aloud and demonstrate how a period allows us to pause and think about what we’re read.

Does this process require a lot of time? Yes – at least at first. But after a few of these focused sessions, the responsibility for monitoring and revising is increasingly released to the student. Remember . . . a student who is struggling is the student who needs us the most, so it’s worth the time.

For more conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at

About Beyond The Apple

Beyond the Apple provides everything a Professional Learning Community needs! Designed to follow Beyond the Apple's Tenets of Adult Education, our videos re-ignite the excitement of professional conversations among educators in the classroom, university, colleges and professional training. Our free teaching and learning resources provide a follow up with more information that is current, research based and practical.
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3 Responses to Student Writing: An in-depth look at the assessment and feedback process

  1. Pingback: Appreciative Assessment of Student Writing: Part 1 | Beyond the Apple

  2. Pingback: Re-framing Conversations About Disengaged Students | Beyond the Apple

  3. Pingback: Becoming a Writer: What We Learn From A Child’s First Stories |

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