THE State Writing Test

Our state writing test is coming up in early March and the tension around it is beginning to rise. Our fifth grades departmentalize, so one teacher teaches writing every day, and the others integrate it into Science and Social Studies some, as well as address it in Literacy and Math as they can, so these kids have gotten lots of practice with writing.

What I see, though, from many of the kids, is quite a bit of this:


In spring of 2013, our writing test will be online, so that all students will do it on the computer. Our teachers have questions about this decision:

Is it best for all kids? Don’t some of us prefer the actual act of writing–pen to paper-to feel that flow of thoughts?  Are we handicapping those kids by forcing them to tell their story through a keyboard?

Will this decision force keyboarding lessons? How fast should kids be able to type?

What about all of those articles that talk about how fast kids can text?  Is this even something we have to worry about?

What about the kids who do NOT text?  Is there an equity issue we need to address?

Will they be allowed, or not, to use a spellchecker? (If integrating contemporary tools, why not utilize the full functionality–is the test on writing or spelling?)

Will the font be fixed, or will they be allowed to use text features as part of their composition (such as bold, underline, italics, etc.)?  They can do that with their handwritten texts, so why not with ones using technology?  They will probably be allowed to use spacing and indenting, so why not the full menu of text features we teach?

But, in the bigger scheme of things, why are we even considering these mechanical kinds of questions about the tools of the word processor?

We have access to the features our state will test through a program called Perspective (formerly NCS Mentor).  Here we can learn about scoring, access anchor papers to show our kids, understand the scoring domains and rubrics, and actually practice scoring actual compositions submitted by real fifth graders.

We can spend a ton of time helping kids understand the process, the scoring domains, rubrics and anchor papers.  Would our time be better spent with kids writing? Some say yes.

I think that our third graders ought to be exploring the access we have to this kind of information.  I believe that when kids clearly understand the expectations and have seen examples–both good and bad–and know the rubrics by which they will be judged, they can more clearly write for the prescribed audience–in this particular case, the test scorers. In this case, the state has provided a reasonable tool by which we can do this kind of teaching. Why not use it–and not just right before the test? Why not make it an integral part of our instruction as one more tool in our arsenal?

However, isn’t the real question this:

Wouldn’t it be better if the state just allowed us to police ourselves and examine our student writing portfolios to see if they can construct a well-organized composition?

What’s the Rubric for “Pencil”?

A HUGE thanks to Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73 on Twitter) who helped me think through this blog and who gave me words when mine got stuck in a quagmire of thoughts.

This is a blog collaboratively written. (The “I statements” about being a K teacher are mine.  The brilliance elsewhere is hers! :-))

I don’t think anyone would argue John Grisham or J.K. Rowlings being an accomplished writer.  (If you would, just pretend you think they are great as you read this blog!)

So, let’s think about the rubric for “pencil” or whatever tool they use to do their writing and apply it to their work.

There is absolutely no doubt that we teach “pencil” in school.  As a Kindergarten teacher, I have to show students how to hold it correctly so that their little hands don’t get worn out.  I look out for ergonomically sound practices, so no one is crooking their wrist to cause carpel tunnel syndrome or an achy wrist.  I pay attention to how tightly they are holding it and try to loosen up those kids who are squeezing it for all it’s worth. I watch to see if their grasp is hiding their writing as they write, so they can see how the letters are written  I adjust their grip to make sure they are not holding it too high or too close to the tip. ALL of these things are criteria I use to judge whether a child is using the pencil correctly and most efficiently.

However, by about 7 years old, most kids are using a pencil efficaciously and teachers no longer teach “pencil.”  Instead, our focus now centers on the mechanics of writing, with content being the most important piece. We teach spelling, grammar, usage and mechanics, but what the student has to say is where the majority of our efforts fall. In writing workshops we do mini lessons on word choice, voice and storylines.  We talk about beginnings and endings, suspense building, conclusions, and how to build a good story.  We talk sequence and logical progression as we also encourage creativity and individual voice within student writing.  No longer do we center on the tool they use, as our emphasis is the learning they do about how to craft a great product.

When we think about John Grisham or J.K.Rowlings, do we care WHAT they write WITH?  Do we care if they use a pencil or an old typewriter, or a word processor? Don’t we care most about the product, the book, the STORY?

We have talked about a “developmental continuum” for developing a writer’s craft for years.  We assume the skill of “pencil use” or whatever the tool is as we look at bigger skills and concepts like voice and word choice. How can we look at “Digital Bloom’s” more like the way we look at “writer’s craft” and less like the way we look at “pencil”?

What skills we choose to put on a continua of skills speak to our vision for technology – either changing what kids do or changing how they do it.  What is bigger than how. Why not develop our continua around what?  What does it mean to “collaborate across cultures”?  Do we really care if this is done with a wiki or Google Docs?

The fact that we are looking at continua of development is important, and the fact that this conversation is happening in a number of places–on Twitter, in the wikis, at Paul R Wood’s deck in Texas, in other places we don’t even know yet–with educators from ALL OVER THE WORLD- is even MORE POWERFUL.  As we craft the rubrics for a Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy together, the impact in our classrooms will happen collaboratively and perhaps similarly across cultures, across gender, across SES, across race, across all kinds of boundaries we normally don’t cross with assessment tools.  The way things are assessed affect what gets taught, so let’s make these the best we can!

Join us at Blooms Rubrics to add your voice (and see the Bloom’s blog page to see yet another blog on “Testing the Pencil” by Tim Holt)

Until next time,


Rubrics for the new Bloom’s Taxonomy

On Saturday night, February 28, 2009, several of us started talking about the visual needed to show the connection between the new Bloom’s Taxonomy and the interactive web tools now available. (See @Fisher1000’s blog link and the wiki, Visual Blooms.

I suggested turning the initial triangle upside down and making it a pyramid, as creating should be the biggest part, and not the smallest, and it needed to be 3-d, with more depth than just a triangle. In fact, I quoted that @BeckyFisher73 was questioning whether the lower levels of Bloom’s should even be part of this visual, if the interactive web (commonly called 2.0) is all about connecting, collaborating and creating, and the next iteration (sometimes called Web 3.0) is all about producing. Where do those lower levels fit into the web that requires people to interact? “Facts” that are constructed socially must be analyzed, synthesized, and evaluated as they are being constructed. @eduguy101 asked, “Are you saying that the digital blooms needs a flexible structure allowing for varying connections?” (His suggestions for a visual: (only animated!) @cristama’s suggestion for a visual: Images/molecule.gif

I asked if creativity equaled create, and @woscholar asked, “would you word it to show Create = a new functional/useful item, idea, etc?” We then began wondering what a rubric for that would look like and all of us actually are entertaining the idea of including rubrics for each level. @woscholar asked what that rubric would look like for the Bloom’s level of “Create” and I haven’t been able to get that question out of my mind.

IF we’re looking at creating a rubric for each level of Bloom’s, we are acknowledging that people move within the each level with varying amounts of expertise. Thus, in the “create” level, we could see the process of create that would equate to a 1 (however we define that) in possibly a young or inexperienced person, and the level of 4 (however we define that) in an expert in a certain area. For example, a kindergartener who is creating a clay pot in an art class and copies the shape the teacher has shown is creating at a low level, while the master potter may/should be creating at the highest level, but perhaps not routinely. Where does teaching others to create at the level of 4, even if perhaps you personally cannot, fit?

So, when I was thinking of these ”Levels of Expertise” in each step of Bloom’s taxonomy, I couldn’t help but think of David Berliner’s Levels of Teacher Expertise, and wonder how those fit into this mindset I was developing. As I ran some of my ideas and questions past @BeckyFisher73 F2F, she reminded me of Steven Levy’s question to find the essential piece of ANYTHING. Thus, we asked each other:

What’s the GENIUS of “create?”
What does it mean to create?
What processes are crucial to creating?
What defines it?
What makes CREATE unique and separate from making or building or constructing?

As Becky and I challenged each other, we came up with two specific frameworks to consider when looking at the process of creating. These include:
1. Model or no model
2. Original or unique combination versus a copy or adaptation of a “known” something (process, product, content, etc.)
Knowledge constructed socially is not knowledge at the knowledge level—during its construction, it was done at the highest levels of Bloom’s.

How do we define create so that it is not replicate or regurgitate? How do we develop a rubric that could be used by teachers to assess the qualities of the work they are asking students to produce? How often do we see “create” as we are talking about in our schools? I suggest we are far more likely to see “replicate” or “extend” or “adapt,” which are all important to some extent, but they are not “create.”

Is “create” the remix and mash ups that kids are into these days? (If we look at the remixes that are getting the airplay, it’s the rock song getting a reggae beat—a unique combination, often constructed socially globally, such as Stand By Me.) What’s the relationship between replicate, extend, adapt, re-vision (not revising), remix, and create?