Assessment of a Particular Writing Performance

Preparing for assessing student writing

Re-read the specific instructions given and expectations stated in a particular writing task, in terms of task appropriateness, content, and language focus.

Re-familiarize yourself with the language focus emphases that were developed as part of the level-specific writing profile, both in terms of the foci themselves (at the discourse, sentence, and lexicogrammatical level) and in terms of the weighting these foci are to receive (indicated by +, ++, and √);

Re-consult the scoring rubrics only as a general guideline according to which task appropriateness, content, and language focus can be translated into holistic ratings toward the end of the level.

Assessing the first draft

Student writing should be evaluated in all three criteria areas and students should be given feedback, positive and negative, in all criteria areas:

Task appropriateness

… is best understood in terms of the major components that make up a genre. Generally referred to as “generic moves,” these components move from being essential and required for a genre to being optional and peripheral. Well-specified task sheets will reflect this central aspect of genre-based writing pedagogy. In this fashion, their presence or absence, their rhetorical ordering in macro-sections, their degree of elaboration in particular episodes, and their language use in terms of the register (e.g., public versus private discourse) enable a judgment of whether and to what extent the intended genre was created more or less successfully in the students’ writing.

Task appropriateness is particularly well captured by the extent to which writers are able to position themselves vis-a-vis an imagined reader-audience and carefully negotiate their relationship to that audience in order to fulfill the intentions of the task within the required and optional moves of the genre (e.g., telling a story, informing, complaining, persuading, expressing condolences or regrets).

The metaphors of the breadth of the generic moves required by the genre and interpersonal tenor for author-reader dialogue are therefore particularly helpful in making assessment decisions.


… is best understood in terms of the information that writers provide in fulfillment of the major moves that make up the required genre. Task sheets should be specific in that area. Within the stated expectations assessment will therefore consider the degree of elaboration, exemplification, accuracy and richness of information that a student’s writing presents.

The metaphor of depth of content/information might aid holistic judgment.

Language focus

… is best understood in terms of the three language levels that the writing profile specifies (discourse, sentence, lexicogrammatical features ) and in terms of the presence or absence of particular features, their level of complexity in relation to the task, and their degree of accuracy. In addition, instructors and individual students, together, might have identified a particular area for highly focused attention. The extent to which the student attended to this feature will be reflected in the assessment. Finally, assessment in the area of language forms, perhaps more than the other categories, is likely to reflect instructor experience with regard to generally expected learner progress within a particular level.

The metaphor of quality readily comes to mind.

Providing feedback

Each category should receive comments or code markings, either marginally, within the text, or at the end of the writing. These comments provide information about what was accomplished successfully and what needs additional work, globally and long-term, and with regard to this particular piece of writing to enable students to prepare a successful revision.

Feedback is most conveniently provided on feedback sheets which are based on the writing task sheets. In shortened form they reiterate the expectations for a particular writing event in all the major areas:

  • task appropriateness in terms of required and, possibly, also in terms of optional generic moves;
  • content in terms of the major topical issues that are to be addressed;
  • language focus at the three levels of analysis (discourse, sentence, lexicon).

This will enable instructors to provide appropriate and highly targeted feedback in an efficient way that should greatly aid students’ revisions.

All errors should either be coded or corrected, even if they are not explicitly listed in the task sheet. This requirement gains increasing importance starting with Level II, because student performance profiles tend to be ever more varied and the occurrence of errors itself reveals little about their status in the learner’s interlanguage (patterned error, careless error, unique but consistently performed error). Even though studies have claimed that teacher corrections and learner revisions seem to have no or no noteworthy impact on writing development, the context of these studies differs significantly from that created in our genre-oriented approach in a curricular context that explicitly teaches writing through genre-based tasks. Also, our students react positively to extensive feedback and the opportunity for revision (and an improved grade). These factors justify the considerable investment of time both on the part of instructors and students. In any case, we hope, through writing research, to be able to document learner development.

In addition, comments might be in order regarding the accuracy of spelling and punctuation.

Assessing the revision

Students will submit the first corrected along with their revised version. The final assessment is a holistic judgment with regard to the quality of the revision only. In other words, instructors will answer the question of how well revisions were accomplished in the three criteria areas, task appropriateness, content, and language focus. They will judge them in terms of very good, good, fair, and poor.

A finding of “very good” and “good” can raise the original grade by a half step (e.g., B to B+); B- to B).

Assigning a grade to the writing performance

Writing assessment and grading in the GUGD assume that all three areas — appropriateness, content, and language focus — are equally important. Furthermore, in a genre- and content-oriented approach to writing it is neither possible nor appropriate to assign numerical values (e.g., percentages or points) to particular categories. Instead, a holistic assessment is based on the criteria that were specified for a particular curricular level and task, all the more so, as these criteria were explicitly incorporated into instruction, into pedagogical recommendations, and into the nature of the feedback students received on the feedback sheet. In order to assure a high comfort level and consistency with assessing writing, levels should periodically conduct joint grading sessions, particularly when new instructors join a level team.

Assigning a grade to a particular piece of writing goes beyond assessing the writing performance in a decontextualized fashion. Here instructors have the opportunity, based on their close knowledge of a particular student and his or her progress in the course, to signal approval, the need for further disciplined work, special recognition of an unusually good piece of writing, etc., all within the criteria spelled out in the writing task sheets. In cases of a significant rewrite of a piece, particularly in Level IV and V courses, instructors have the discretion to recognize the thoroughly rewritten piece with an improvement in the grade beyond that stated above.

December 7, 2002 (updated November 17, 2003)

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