When young children are in the very beginning stages of becoming writers, they often progress quickly through exciting and delightful changes, and progress is obvious- but assessment can be difficult for the untrained eye to identify and name. Educators use grading scales called “rubrics” to help them identify the stages that children are passing through, and give our precious children’s darling attempts at writing those numerical scores that administrators and school district expect in order to quantify their growth and educational progress. In today’s blog post, I will attempt to clarify the developmental stages that children pass through on their journey to become writers, and tell you how I score my own students’ writing by using writing rubrics, and document their progress by using Portfolio Assessment.
A portfolio is a fancy name for a folder that contains work samples from a given child, usually starting with an entry level example of the child’s work taken from the very beginning of the school year. The dated work samples are collected throughout the school year and then compared one to the other to show a child’s progress. Portfolio Assessment is also frequently referred to as “Authentic Assessment,” because rather than give children a one-time test, we collect, view, and score work samples over a long period of time, which allows us to assess how the child is really doing on a daily, on-going basis. Therefore, the results are thought to be more authentic, real, or true. The biggest issue is that scoring writing samples can be quite subjective and open to interpretation. Therefore, the more specific the rubric is, the easier it should be to score the writing, because there should be less guess work involved. In other words, a good rubric helps teachers be more objective in scoring children’s work that might otherwise be scored subjectively.
At my last school, teachers collaborated as a grade level team when attempting to score the children’s writing on a rubric each quarter. The five of us on the Kindergarten team met after school and looked at each child’s writing as a group. We had to agree on what the score should be before it would be scored. This became more and more important as we knew that we would have to enter our students’ scores into the district data base. Naturally, every teacher wants his or her students to score well; after all, test scores are now being used in many places to evaluate teachers, and this knowledge was always present in our minds. We often wondered if we were being compared one teacher to another, and one school to another, and we all wanted our students to do their best.
This is my favorite version of my writing rubric because I find the example pictures to be very helpful in scoring.
Here is the writing rubric that I developed for kindergarten. I am including it here as a free download for you. Below is an explanation of the rubric. Notice that I have not included any reference to “neat printing” or fine motor skills at all in this rubric. This is because the development of the child’s ability to hold and use a pencil well and print neatly is not an indication of what is happening inside the child’s mind! Neat printing makes it easier for adults to read and grade a paper, but it is not an indicator of intelligence or thought process. If you are not sure if you agree, think about how many doctors, lawyers, and scientists you know with perfect printing! The digital age has arrived, and our ability to print perfectly will become less and less important with each passing year. But our ability to actually write well will remain vitally important.
Most of my students in Kindergarten at my Title One school made it to level 7 or 8 by the end of the year! This was possible due to the fact that memorizing the spellings of the sight words was easy with our Sing and Spell the Sight Word DVD’s and CD’s. Also, it proved fairly easy to teach children the different phonics sound spelling combinations in English with the Sounds Fun Phonics CD and DVD. Adding a motion, a visual aide, and a song to each phonics spelling pattern was like turning a key in a locked door for many of the children, who seemed to memorize them just as easily as they might memorize a little finger play like the Eency Weency Spider! Check these programs out here if you are unfamiliar.
Kindergarten Writing Rubric Explanation
(This rubric should also meet the needs of many Pre-K, Transitional K, and First Grade teachers and parents.)
This includes drawing, scribbling, made-up symbols that represent letters, and random letters with no phonetic relationship between letters chosen and the sounds in a word. The letters are scattered all over the page and do not progress from left to right.
2. Strings of Random Letters
Letters progress from top to bottom and left to right as children pretend to read their paper back. However, the letter sounds have no relationship between letters the children choose and the sounds that are in the word.
This is an example of random letter strings done by a Kindergarten student.
3. Copies Environmental Print
Child copies words from the environment, or the room around him. He usually has no idea what words he has copied, and if asked, he will say something like, “You read it to me!” His random words do not form any kind of sentence, because the child does not realize yet that his writing should be conveying a message.
This is an example of environmental print copied by a kindergartner.
4. Uses Primarily Sight Words in a Sentence
This is the BREAKTHROUGH stage where the child actually writes something that he or she can actually read back! Most of the time, there are no spaces between the words yet at this stage, nor is there any end punctuation. This stage includes simply sight words, environmental print, and word wall words that they child has been taught to find and copy in a classroom. There is no inventive spelling attempted at all; in other words, the child is NOT using any knowledge of sounds nor the alphabet (the alphabetic principal) to help him spell unknown words.
This is an example of a child using primarily sight words in a sentence in Kindergarten. She copied the word “Santa” off of the word wall. She was able to read the sentence back, and we can tell by her picture that she understood what her sentence was about. Can you figure out what she said Santa was saying???
5. Uses Beginning Sounds in a Sentence
This level is the second big BREAKTHROUGH stage, where the child starts to include some beginning sounds as well as sight words in a sentence that the child can read back. This means that the child is beginning to spell on his or her own using inventive spelling, even if it is just the beginning sound of a word. Vowel sounds and ending sounds in the words written with inventive spelling are not necessary- just beginning sounds. Spaces between words and end punctuation are not necessary yet for the child to receive this score.
This is an example of what a child’s writing at the Beginning Sounds stage might look like. Children rarely show us just one stage at a time, though! Most writing samples are a mixture of more than one level.
6. Early Developmental Spelling
In this stage, the child uses sight words as well as some beginning and ending sounds of a word in a sentence. The child can read back this sentence EVERY time! There are spaces between most words, although he or she may forget them now and then. Punctuation is not necessary. The child also draws a matching picture to go with the sentence, given enough time- or explains to an adult a bit more about their story. In any case, if there is a picture, it definitely matches what is written on the paper.
This child has almost passed from early developmental spelling to developmental spelling, since we can see that she is starting to try to use vowels as she sounds out the word “swim.” BUT- I know that MOST of the time she does not use the vowels (as in the rest of the words,) so I scored her at the early developmental level.
So, if you are trying to score a child’s writing, to get this score, the child would need to have a paper in which he tried to spell on his own, using both beginning and ending sounds- and maybe even a few other consonant sounds that fall in the middle of the word. Plus, there would still be the sight words and word wall words as before. Then they get a score of a six. There are spaces between the great majority of the words, though they may have missed an occasional space here or there.
Lined paper with rubric reminders at the bottom for non-fiction writing. If you look at the second to last writing sample under Developmental Spelling, you will see how the child marked her topic sentence with a green dot and the detail sentences with a yellow dot.
This is what I give the children when they are writing narrative paragraphs rather than about non-fiction topics.
You may have noticed the paper the child was using for that particular test above. It has some reminder boxes to help the children learn to edit and start self-correcting their own mistakes. First they check for capitals and check off the box, then spaces, and then punctuation. That test was for non-fiction writing, and so it also included the topic sentence and details box. You may download these papers here, if you like!
7. Developmental Spelling
At this level, there are spaces between all of the words. When the child uses inventive spelling, some middle and ending sounds are written, including a few vowels. Punctuation may be added, but is not necessary to get this score. If there is a picture, it matches the words, but if not, the child can explain to you what the story is about. And, if you ask the child to read it back, he can.
This cute writing sample shows us how the child was using sight words and word wall words, as well as inventive spelling as she wrote. We see that she included beginning sounds, vowel sounds, and ending sounds in some words. Therefore, I would put this work at the Developmental Spelling level.
So, if a child’s paper deserves to be scored at this level, then when he would need to be writing unknown words as they sound, using beginning, ending, and some vowel sounds. Plus, there would be the sight words and word wall words, as well. There would be spaces between all of the words, and punctuation may be starting to appear, but is not necessary that it be there EVERY single time. (Children will continue to forget this even past fourth grade, and it is something that they need to work on continually. Even adults forget punctuation from time to time!) There should be more than one sentence written, too.
Here is another example of a kindergarten child’s writing that fits into this level. Notice how the child marked the topic sentence with a green dot (for go!) and yellow dots on the detail sentences. Later in first grade they start adding the conclusion statements and mark them with a red dot (for stop.) This came from the Step Up to Writing Program.
8. Transitional Spelling
At this highest level on the writing rubric, the child writes two or more sentences, using some real spelling that even includes memorized spellings of words with silent letters. Capitals and punctuation and spaces are used correctly at least some of the time, and if there is a picture, it matches. If not, the child can explain what the writing is about.
Here is an example of a kindergarten child’s Transitional Spelling writing paper. This was done in a testing situation with no help at all and the word wall covered up. Notice how the child was able to spell many words with silent letters correctly on her own. She wrote two pages, and I think that a lot of the punctuation is not showing up in the picture. She is clearly on her way to becoming a fluent writer!
Put it all together, and this means that when the children start adding in real spellings of words with silent letters in addition to the sight words and word wall words, then they receive the highest score possible on this writing rubric. Keep in mind that when we test them at the end of the year, we cover up the word wall, so that they cannot use it as a “crutch” for spelling; they have to do it on their own. (Many of my kids can easily accomplish this thanks to the Sing and Spell CD’s/DVD’s, thank goodness!) Most of the sentences have correct beginning and end punctuation, though there will be a couple of errors in this area. Considering that this is still true of children in the fourth and fifth grade, I think that this is reasonable. There should be at least two or more sentences here, and I really think that three sentences is reasonable for a kindergartner by the end of the year.
For more information on portfolio assessment for pre-K and Kindergarten and free downloads of the pages that go with it, please see my blog post here:
This blog post has lots of free downloads of other portfolio assessment pages that you may want to use in a pre-K or Kindergarten portfolio. Click here to visit.
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