Answering an open response questions (ORQ) requires students to put into practice all the good writing strategies they have developed. Assessments demand that students efficiently move through the writing process.
Students have just finished reading a novel of their choice and now it is time to assess their comprehension skills. To get started, they must take time to understand exactly what the question is asking, determine how to organize the information, accurately identify the necessary details from the text, and plan what to write using a graphic organizer. Once the writing is done, they must take time to revise and edit it as needed. That’s a lot to ask so before handing anything out, the least I can do is take time to remind of them of the process. One of the best ways to do that is to review the rubric.
Students need a quiet environment and as much time a possible to write. They are usually seated in groups of four or five but for assessments they separate their desks and only have materials needed for the task at hand on their desks. For this particular assessment, they are allowed to use the novels we just finished reading in order to find the quotes to include in the written response. I allow each person to choose whether to write out the essay on paper or to type it using an iPad. By this time in the year they are proficient at setting up the document (heading, centered title, etc.) and understand the need to share it with me on Google Drive. About 2/3 of the class choose to type and 1/3 choose paper and pencil.
The ORQ itself is no surprise as we have been tracking how the main character of the novel changes and grows as the plot unfolds. The students have annotated the text while reading, created projects, and worked in groups to make PowerPoint presentations related to characterization. Even with all this practice, I find myself nervous about their responses and spend a good deal of the testing time circulating around the room answering questions and prompting students that get stuck. I make notes of these interventions, especially if a student requires a significant amount of prompting to move through the process.
One of the best ways to get students to reflect on their work before turning it in is to have them self-evaluate their writing by marking the rubric. This becomes a useful talking point when reviewing progress. I also remind of this poster, which hangs in a prominent place in the front of the room. Even though this particular rubric does not specifically have a section for grading grammar and conventions, students are aware that if I (or any reader) has to work too hard to understand what they wrote it will negatively affect the grade.
Attached are a few examples of the work submitted. One is from a student who did a phenomenal job and received top scores. Another is from a student whose work shows proficiency even though there is room for him to grow as a writer. He chose to use a color-coding system many students have adopted. There is one color for the introduction and conclusion, a second for examples, a third for quotes, and a fourth for explanations. In this way, it is easy to see if all the required parts are included. A third writing sample is from a student whose writing falls in the ‘needs improvement’ category. After some small group instruction and application of the color-coding technique her writing shows a greater degree of organization, as explained here: