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Assessing writing

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  • 1. Assessing Writing Christine Coombe
  • 2. Presentation Outline We explore the main practical issues that teachers often face when evaluating the writing work of their students.
  • 3. Background The field of writing assessment has developed considerably over the past 50 years. Teacher judgment has always played an important role in the assessment of writing. Ts frequently ask their Ss to write on a variety of topics and then assess them on: – the message contained in the writing sample, – the clarity and organization of the message – the mechanics (spelling, capitalization and punctuation) utilized (O’Malley & Valdez Pierce, 1996).
  • 4. Approaches to Writing Assessment Two major approaches to writing assessment have been identified in the literature: – direct – indirect
  • 5. Indirect Writing Assessment Indirect measures of writing ability have been very commonly used over the years. – basically measures correct usage in sentence level constructions and focuses on spelling and punctuation via objective formats like MCQs and cloze tests. – measures determine the S’s knowledge of writing sub skills such as grammar and sentence construction which are assumed to constitute components of writing ability Indirect writing assessment measures are largely concerned with accuracy rather than communication.
  • 6. Direct Writing Assessment Direct writing assessment measures the S’s ability to communicate through the written mode based on the production of written texts. – requires Ss to come up with the content, find a way to organize the ideas and use appropriate vocabulary, grammatical conventions and syntax. Direct writing assessment integrates all elements of writing.
  • 7. Designing Writing Assessment Tests/Tasks According to Hyland (2003) the design of good writing assessment tests and tasks involves four basic elements: – Rubric: the instructions – Prompt: the task – Expected response: what the teacher intends Ss to do with the task – Post task evaluation: assessing the effectiveness of the writing task.
  • 8. Rubric First element of a good writing assessment. The rubric is basically the instructions for carrying out the writing task. The rubric should include information like – the procedures for responding – the task format – time allotted for completion of the test/task – information about how the test/task will be evaluated Much of the information in the rubric should come from the test specification.
  • 9. Writing Test Specs Test specifications for a writing test should provide the test writer with – details on the topic – the rhetorical pattern to be tested – the intended audience – how much information should be included – the number of words the student is expected to produce and overall weighting (Davidson & Lloyd, 2005).
  • 10. Effective Rubrics Good rubrics should: – Specify a particular rhetorical pattern, length of writing desired and amount of time allowed to complete task; – Indicate resources Ss can use (dictionaries, spell/grammar check etc) and method of delivery (i.e. paper and pencil, laptop, PC) – Indicate whether a draft or an outline is required – Include overall weighting of writing task as compared to other parts of the exam Rubrics should be as clear and as comprehensive as possible.
  • 11. Writing Prompts Second essential part of writing test Hyland (2003) defines the prompt as “the stimulus the student must respond to” (p. 221). Kroll and Reid (1994:233) identify three main prompt formats: – Base = state the entire task in direct and very simple terms – framed = present the writer with a situation that acts as a frame for the interpretation of the task – text-based = present writers with a text to which they must respond or utilize in their writing The first two are the most common in F/SL writing assessment.
  • 12. Sample Base Prompts Do you favor or oppose a complete ban on smoking? Why? Why not? Discuss the view that women are better drivers than men. Many say that “Money is the root of all evil.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  • 13. Sample Framed Prompts On a recent flight back home to the UAE, Emirates Airlines lost your baggage. Write a complaint letter to Mr. Al-Ahli, the General Manager, telling him about your problem. Be sure to include the following: – Your flight details – A description of the baggage lost and its contents – What you would like Mr. Al-Ahli to do for you An announcement has been made by the Hollywood Academy on this year’s nominations for the Oscar award. You notice that you and most of your friends have not heard of the films nominated for the ‘Best Picture’ award. Write a letter to the head of the Academy Awards about this and suggest and support alternative nominees.
  • 14. Sample Text-based Prompts You have been asked by a youth travel magazine to write an article about things to see and do in your hometown. Using the attached set of pictures, write a one-page article on this topic. You have been put in charge of selecting an appropriate restaurant for your senior class party. Use the restaurant reviews below to select an appropriate venue and then write an invitation letter to your fellow classmates persuading them to join you there.
  • 15. Criteria of Good Writing Prompts A writing prompt defines the writing task for students. It consists of a question or a statement that Ss will address in their writing and the conditions under which they will be asked to write. Each prompt you use in the assessment of writing should meet the following criteria (Davidson & Lloyd, 2005): – generate the desired type of writing, genre or rhetorical pattern; – get students involved in thinking and problem-solving; – be accessible, interesting and challenging to students; – address topics that are meaningful, relevant, and motivating; – not require specialist background knowledge; – use appropriate signpost verbs; – be fair and provide equal opportunities for all students to respond – be clear, authentic, focused and unambiguous; – specify an audience, a purpose, and a context.
  • 16. Appropriate Signpost Verbs Developing a good writing prompt requires appropriate ‘signpost’ terms to match rhetorical pattern you are using. Some of the most common are listed below: – Describe: give a detailed account – Discuss: argue a thesis, identifying pros and cons – Explain: state and interpret – Compare: show similarities between two things – Contrast: show the differences between two things – Analyze: identify main points and evaluate them – Define: provide the definition and exemplify – Summarize: produce a concise account of the main ideas, omitting details and examples – Outline: provide a summary of main points and sub headings – Evaluate: appraise the worth or value of something
  • 17. Expected Response Another essential element of good writing assessment. A description of what the teacher intends Ss to do with the writing task. Before communicating information on the expected response to Ss, it is necessary for the teacher to have a clear picture of what type of response they want the assessment task to generate.
  • 18. Post Task Evaluation Whatever way you choose to assess writing, it is recommended that you evaluate the effectiveness of your writing tasks/tests. According to Hyland (2003), good writing tasks are likely to produce positive responses to the following questions: – Did the prompt discriminate well among my Ss? – Were the essays easy to read and evaluate? – Were Ss able to write to their potential and show what they knew?
  • 19. Issues in Writing Assessment Time allocation Process vs. product Test administration conditions Topic restriction Classroom teacher as rater Multiple raters
  • 20. Time Allocation A commonly-asked question by teachers is how much time should students be given to complete writing tasks. – Depends on whether it’s process or product oriented A good rule of thumb is provided by Jacobs et al (1981). – In their research on the Michigan Composition Test, they (1981:19) state that allowing 30 minutes is probably enough time for most students to produce an adequate sample of writing. With process oriented writing or portfolios, a lot more time should be allocated for assessment tasks.
  • 21. Process vs. Product There has been a shift towards focusing on the process of writing rather than on the written product. Some writing tests have focused on assessing the whole writing process from brainstorming activities all the way to the final draft or finished product. In using this process approach, students usually have to – submit their work in a portfolio that includes all draft material. A more traditional way to assess writing is through a product approach. – accomplished through timed essay which usually occurs at the mid and end point of the semester It is recommended that teachers use a combination of the two approaches in their writing assessment.
  • 22. Test Administration Conditions Technology has the potential to really impact on writing assessment. Should Ss be allowed to use computer, spell and grammar check, thesaurus and online dictionaries? – these tools would be available to them in real-life contexts. Technological advances bring several issues to the fore. – with computers, Ss can access tools like spell and grammar check.  This access could put those who write by hand at a disadvantage. – Skill contamination must also be considered  electronic writing assessment is also a test of keyboarding and computer skills. Whatever delivery mode you decide to use for your writing assessments, it is important to be consistent with all Ss.
  • 23. Topic Restriction A controversial and heated issue in writing assessment. Belief that all Ss should write on the same topic and no alternatives are given. Ts feel that Ss perform better when they can select the prompt from a variety of alternative topics. – When given choices, Ss select topics that interests them and ones they have background knowledge on. – major advantage is the reduction of student anxiety. – major disadvantage is the difficulty of writing prompts at the same level of difficulty. Testers recommend that all Ss write on the same topic because allowing choice introduces too much variance into the scores. – marker consistency may be reduced if all papers read at a single writing calibration session are not on the same topic. – It is the general consensus within language testing community that all Ss should write on the topic and preferably on more than one topic. – Research results are mixed on whether students write better with single or with multiple prompts (Hamp-Lyons, 1990).  Ss who are given multiple prompts may do less well than expected because Ss waste time selecting a topic instead of spending that time writing. If you do decide to allow students to select a topic from a variety of alternatives, make sure your alternative topics are the same genre and rhetorical pattern. This practice will make it easier for you to achieve inter-rater reliability.
  • 24. Classroom Teacher as Rater Should classroom teachers mark their own students’ papers? Divided opinions on this issue. – Those who are against warn of possibility that Ts might show bias either for or against Ss – Those who are for state that Ts know their own Ss best Double blind marking is the recommended ideal where no student identifying information appears on scripts.
  • 25. Multiple Raters Do we really need more than one marker for student writing samples? – The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. All reputable writing assessment programs use more than one rater to judge essays. – the recommended number is two, with a third in case of extreme disagreement or discrepancy. – Why? It is believed that multiple judgments lead to a final score that is closer to a “true” score than any single judgment (Hamp-Lyons, 1990).
  • 26. Ways to Assess Writing The F/SL literature generally addresses two types of writing: – free writing  requires Ss to read a prompt that poses a situation and write a planned response based on a combination of background knowledge and knowledge learned from the course. – guided writing  requires Ss to manipulate content that is provided in the prompt, usually in the form of a chart or diagram.
  • 27. Guided Writing A bridge between objective and subjective formats. Requires teachers to be very clear about what they expect Ss to do. Decide whether mechanical issues like spelling, punctuation and capitalization matter when the task focuses on comprehension. Some important points to keep in mind are: – Be clear about the expected form and length of response (one paragraph, a 250-word essay, a letter etc.). – If you want particular information included, clearly specify it in the prompt (i.e. three causes and effects, two supporting details etc.) – Specify the discourse pattern(s) the students are expected to use (i.e. compare and contrast, cause and effect, description etc.) – Be sure to ask Ss to provide something beyond the prompt such as an opinion, an inference, or a prediction. – Be amenable to revising the anticipated answer even as you grade.
  • 28. Free Writing All GW suggestions are germane to free writing. Goal for Ts is to elicit comparable products from Ss of different ability levels. – Use of multiple raters is especially important – Agree on grading criteria in advance and calibrate before the actual grading session. – Decide on whether to use holistic, analytical or a combination of the two as a rating scale for marking. – If using a band scale, adjust it to the task. – Acquaint Ss with marking scheme in advance by using it for teaching, grading homework and providing feedback. – Subliminally teach good writing strategies by providing Ss with enough space for an outline, a draft and the finished product. In ES/FL classrooms, be aware of cultural differences and sensitivities among students. Avoid contentious issues that might offend or disadvantage Ss.
  • 29. Authentic Writing Assessment Student-Teacher Conferences: Teachers can learn a lot about their students’ writing habits through student-teacher conferences. These conferences can also provide them with important assessment opportunities. Among the questions that teachers might ask during conferences include: – How did you select this topic? – What did you do to generate content for this writing? – Before you started writing, did you make a plan or an outline? – During the editing phase, what types of errors did you find in your writing? – What do you feel are your strengths in writing? – What do you find difficult in writing? – What would you like to improve about your writing?
  • 30. Authentic Writing Assessment Self Assessment: There are two self-assessment techniques than can be used in writing assessment: – dialog journals – learning logs Peer Assessment – Involves Ss in the evaluation of writing. – Eases the marking burden on the teacher. – Ss get regular feedback on what they produce. – Ss can use checklists, scoring rubrics or simple questions The major rationale is that when Ss learn to evaluate the work of their peers, they are extending their own learning opportunities.
  • 31. Authentic Writing Assessment Portfolio Assessment: Examines multiple pieces of writing written over time under different constraints rather than an assessment of a single essay written under a specified time. Definitions vary but the general consensus is – a purposive collection of student writing over time, which shows the stages in the writing process a text has gone through and the stages of the writers’ growth. – Increasingly, evidence of reflection is present Key elements of portfolios are student reflection and self- monitoring. Portfolios can showcase a S’s best work or display a collection of both drafts and final products to demonstrate progress and continued improvement.
  • 32. Characteristics of a Portfolio Portfolios must include student participation in four important areas: – the selection of portfolio contents – the guidelines for selection – the criteria for judging merit – evidence of student reflection
  • 33. Characteristics of a Portfolio Five characteristics typify a model portfolio (Moya and O’Malley, 1994): – Comprehensiveness : potential for determining depth and breath of S’s capabilities can be realized through comprehensive data collection and analysis. – Predetermined and systematic : a sound portfolio is planned prior to implementation. This includes information like the purpose, contents, data collection schedule and student grading criteria. – Informative : the information in the portfolio must be meaningful to all stakeholders in the process (i.e. teachers, students, staff and parents). – Tailored : an exemplary portfolio is tailored to the purpose for which it will be used to classroom goals and objectives and to individual student assessment needs. – Authentic : A good portfolio provides student information based on assessment tasks that reflect authentic activities used during classroom instruction
  • 34. Writing Marking Procedures Reliable writing assessment requires a carefully thought- out set of procedures and a significant amount of time needs to be devoted to the rating process. Steps in the writing calibration process: – First, a small team of trained and experienced raters needs to select a number of sample benchmark scripts from completed exam papers. – Benchmark scripts need to be representative of the following levels at minimum:  Clear pass (good piece of writing that is solidly in the A/B range)  Borderline pass (a paper that is on the borderline between pass and fail but shows enough of the requisite information to be a pass)  Borderline fail (a paper that is on the borderline between pass and fail but does not have enough of the requisite information to pass)  Clear fail (a below average paper that is clearly in the D/F range)
  • 35. Writing Marking Procedures The team of experienced raters needs to rate the scripts using the scoring criteria and agree on a score. – note down a few reasons why the script was rated in such a way Next, lead arbitrator conducts a calibration session (referred to as a standardization or norming session) where the entire pool of raters rate the sample scripts and try to agree on the scores that each script should receive. – In these calibration sessions Ts should evaluate and discuss benchmark scripts until they arrive at a consensus score. These sessions are time consuming and not very popular with Ts who want to get started on the writing marking right away. They are also very heated especially when raters of different educational and cultural backgrounds are involved. Despite these disadvantages, they are an essential component to standardizing writing scores.
  • 36. Holistic Marking Scales Holistic marking is based on the markers total impression of the essay as a whole. – variously termed impressionistic, global or integrative marking – is quick and reliable if 3 to 4 people mark each script – mark for two hours and then rest grading no more than 20 scripts per hour – most successful using scales of a limited range (i.e. from 0-6). FL/SL educators have identified a number of advantages to this type of marking. – reliable if done under no time constraints and if Ts receive training. – generally perceived to be quicker than other types of writing assessment – enables a large number of scripts to be scored in a short period of time. – since overall writing ability is assessed, Ss are not disadvantaged by one lower component such as poor grammar bringing down a score. – An additional advantage is that the scores tend to emphasize the writer’s strengths (Cohen, 1994: 315).
  • 37. Holistic Marking Scales Several disadvantages of holistic marking have also been identified – can be unreliable if marking is done under short time constraints and with inexperienced, untrained teachers (Heaton, 1990). – longer essays often tend to receive higher marks. – Testers point out that by reducing a score to one figure tends to reduce the reliability of the overall mark. – It is also difficult to interpret a composite score from a holistic mark. – The most serious problem associated with holistic marking is the inability of this type of marking to provide washback. Tendency on the part of the marker to overlook the various sub- skills that make up writing. Hamp-Lyons (1990) has stated that holistic marking is severely limited in that it does not provide a profile of the students writing ability.
  • 38. Analytic Marking Scales “raters provide separate assessments for each of a number of aspects of performance” (Hamp-Lyons, 1991). – In other words, raters mark selected aspects of a piece of writing and assign point values to quantifiable criteria. – has been termed discrete point marking and focused holistic marking. Analytic marking scales are generally more effective with inexperienced teachers. Are more reliable for scales with a larger point range. A number of advantages have been identified with analytic marking. – provide Ts with a "profile" of their Ss strengths and weaknesses in writing. – it is very reliable if done with a population of inexperienced Ts who have had little training and grade under short time constraints (Heaton, 1990). Finally, training raters is easier because the scales are more explicit and detailed.
  • 39. Analytic Marking Scales Educators point out a number of disadvantages with this scale – perceived to be more time consuming because it requires Ts to rate various aspects of a Ss essay. – necessitates a set of specific criteria to be written and for markers to be trained and attend frequent calibration sessions. – Also, because Ts look at specific areas in a given essay, the most common being content, organization, grammar, mechanics and vocabulary, marks are often lower The most well-known analytic writing scale is the ESL Composition Profile (Jacobs et al, 1981). – This scale contains five component skills, each focusing on an important aspect of composition and weighted according to its approximate importance:  content (30 points), organization (20 points), vocabulary (20 points), language use (25 points) and mechanics (5 points).  The total weight for each component is further broken down into numerical ranges that correspond to four levels from “very poor” to “excellent”
  • 40. Responding to Student Writing An important aspect of writing marking is providing written feedback – is essential in that it provides opportunities for Ss to learn and make improvements to their writing. Probably the most common type of written teacher feedback is handwritten comments on the Ss’ papers. – usually occur at the end of the paper or in the margins. – Some Ts like to use correction codes to provide formative feedback – These simple correction codes facilitate marking and minimize the amount of “red” ink on student writings. Advances in technology provide us with another way of responding to student writing. – Electronic feedback is particularly valuable because it can be used to give a combination of handwritten comments and correction codes. – Can easily provide commentary and insert corrections through Microsoft Word’s track changes facility and through programs like Markin.
  • 41. Research on Written Feedback Research indicates that teacher written feedback is highly valued by second language writers – many Ss particularly value feedback on their grammar (Leki, 1990). – positive remarks are motivating and highly valued by Ss – too much praise or positive commentary early on in a writer’s development can make students complacent and discourage revision
  • 42. Sample Correction Codes sp Spelling vt Verb tense ww Wrong word wv Wrong verb ☺ Nice idea/content! ₪ Switch placement ¶ New paragraph ? I don’t understand
  • 43. 10 Things to Remember….. 1. Give students multiple writing assessment opportunities . Provide plenty of opportunities for Ss at all levels to practice the type of writing that you expect them to do on the writing test. 2. Test a variety of writing skills and create tasks of varying lengths. Take more than one sample of a students’ writing. This reduces the variation in performance that might occur from task to task. 3. Develop prompts that are appropriate for the Ss. Make sure that the prompts you select or develop invite the desired type of writing. They should be realistic, sensitive to the cultural background of the student. Choose subjects which are within the realm of experience of your Ss. 4. Evaluate all answers to one question before going on to the next. This practice prevents a shifting of standards from one question to the next and helps the rater mark more consistently. 5. Mark only what the student has written . Don’t be influenced by other factors in addition to the quality of the work like the quality or legibility of the handwriting.
  • 44. 10 Things to Remember….. 6. Have a systematic approach for dealing with marking discrepancies. One such approach might be to take the average of the two raters for a small discrepancy and to utilize a third rater if there is a big discrepancy. 7. Get students involved. Get Ss involved in both the development and marking of their writing tests. 8. Provide students with diagnostic feedback. Use writing assessment results to identify what Ss can and cannot do well and make sure to provide this information to Ss. With analytic marking you will have access to a profile to give Ss feedback. With holistic marking scales, be sure to take notes on Ss’ strengths and areas for improvement. 9. Practice blind or double blind marking. Mark essays without looking at Ss’ names as the general impression we have of our Ss is a potential form of bias. 10. Calibrate and recalibrate. The best way to achieve inter-rater reliability is to practice. Start early in the academic year by employing the marking criteria and scale in non-test situations. Make Ss aware from the outset of the criteria and expectations for their work.

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