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Evaluating Student Journals
Students are writing away in their journals. How can you evaluate student journal writing? How do you provide feedback for student's journals? Experienced teachers share tips.
When we are encouraging kids to write for longer periods of time, to try new styles of writing, to share opinions or be more creative, we have to wonder how encouraging it would be to literally "massacre" their writing with that infamous red pen.
One "Back Door" Solution:
At the same time, kids deserve and need some feedback both positive and critical in order to grow as writers. One solution is to have students write only on the front side of journal pages and leave feedback for them on the backside of the page, with their writing untouched. While problematic spelling, grammar, handwriting and organization should be pointed out, comments about what works are more helpful when they are specific too.
For example, "You've nailed the topic sentence three days in row."
8 Point Journal Writing Check List and Evaluation Tool:
Perhaps stapled inside of their journals or posted on a bulletin board, a writing checklist can be helpful.
write a strong topic sentence?
provide details to support the topic sentence?
stay on the topic?
create new paragraphs for new ideas?
use capital letters where needed?
punctuate every sentence?
use complete sentences?
spell words correctly?
This checklist can also be used to provide feedback. Each question can be answered with either yes or no, with one point being awarded for each yes answer with a possible total of eight points per journal entry. Over time, patterns will become clear that students have mastered some aspects of writing and need some extra review and focus on other areas.
30 Point Evaluation System for More Experienced Journal Writers:
Jeannie Fulbright, blogger at Jeannie's Journal has a helpful article for evaluating upper level journal writing based on "six traits of writing," including ideas and content, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice and conventions.
Evaluating Writing in Specific Need Areas:
At times journal writing evaluation may be specific for a child that has a specific challenge area such as spelling. If a student has mastered all but one area of writing skills, it may be more helpful to focus on the specific challenge. For example, together keeping a running count of misspelled words in order to see progress over time.
In one case, a student was asked to count the words in their daily journal writing and write the total number on the back page. When evaluating the journal, I would note how many words were spelled correctly/incorrectly and offer a percentage.
At first the percentages were high, averaging around 33% misspelled words. This was alarming and discouraging to this student. I was sure to point out that by attempting to use new words, we had a better way of judging spelling needs for real writing than can be provided from spelling test. Also I continued to highly praise the overall organization and high interest level of her writing because I did not want this student to only use words she knew how to spell and limit the content or creativity of her writing.
Knowing that together we were "gauging" her progress rather than "counting off of her grade" in writing, was ultimately encouraging and her writing in general as well as her spelling slowly but steadily improved over the first semester of journal writing.
Whichever path we take to evaluate and provide feedback for student's writing journals, we must include critical feedback to improve writing skills and positive feedback to nurture a desire to write.