[We moved! Oh my gosh. We're never doing that again. Hopefully this blog will soon be returning to regular levels of Tinderboxy goodness.]
I had a little crisis of confidence after I made my last post about Alex’s hilarious notes. I mean, clearly the notes are adorable. I have to fight the urge to post pictures of every one she writes – how could I possibly deny you guys a peek at the voting chart she made to elect herself “presadint and comandr,” for example? Or the request for a field trip to the zoo, written in code and urgently presented to me while I was frantically calling around for an emergency plumber? (Yeah.)
On the other hand, yeesh, the handwriting and spelling. Coming from a kid who’s reading 101 Dalmatians in her free time, for fun, is this writing even approaching first-grade level?
It’s hard for me to get a grip on what constitutes “grade level” for writing, anyway. In other subject areas, it seems so much more clear-cut. You can check Scholastic Book Wizard or graded book lists to get an idea of what constitutes grade-level reading. Math books typically have a grade level printed on the cover. But with writing? I’m just guessing.
A public school parent at a meeting I attended said that kids in her neighborhood public school were writing paragraphs by the end of kindergarten. It seems to be widespread that third graders are writing five-paragraph essays – a format I was taught in seventh grade. …And then I think about the essays I graded when I was a TA in grad school. Surely most of those kids weren’t writing good paragraphs in kindergarten, if their writing ability after 13 more years of instruction was any indication.
Browsing education websites for commentary on how to evaluate early elementary writing just left me more confused. Apparently there are “six traits” of writing, and beginning in kindergarten children should be guided to work on things like developing an authentic voice. Check out this scoring rubric for grades K-2. “Charts, tables, graphs match, clarify, and enrich text and are placed properly.” “Strong attempts at figurative language create clear mental imagery.” “Pacing is purposeful.” “Risk-taking reveals person behind words.” Grades K-2. That rubric doesn’t seem to exist on the same planet as the K-2 kids I know – not just Alex, but my school-attending RE students as well. Or am I kidding myself?
Googling for scored examples brought me back to earth.
Commentary: Style: The student uses specific descriptive words to tell about the spider’s size [...] The writer repeats “bigger than” for emphasis. The reader is able to tell that the writer is fascinated by the gigantic size of this spider named Henry. Score: 23/30.
The student uses “because” effectively to sequence and connect why the spider does what it does: “always stays in its web because it is shy,” “eats bugs because it is nasty.” [...] The use of words like “scary” and “nasty” give evidence of the writer’s personality. Score: 26/30.
More scored first-grade samples with commentary are visible at the above link, and a different set of “proficient” samples are here. Examples from 1st-3rd grade, scored according to that terrifying “six traits” rubric and accompanied by snarky rater commentary, can be found here.
Honestly, reading through the various professional analyses and evaluations of first graders’ writing leaves me with more questions than answers. I wonder about the educational value of analyzing eti buse be kcsye its is nasd in terms of “voice” and “sequencing of ideas.” Do kids of this age benefit from instruction in these kinds of abstract concepts, when they’re still struggling to figure out how to put words on a page?
These are honest questions, not insinuating ones. I really want to know. This would be a great time for the teachers (and the rhetoric and composition professor! *waves*) who read this to weigh in. And public school parents! What are your kids writing? Fill me in.