Every year, we fill out "data cards" on each of our students every 9 weeks to track their progress in reading, writing and math. We also include their scores for "mock" versions of our annual state test and any other standardized test scores. We keep them on tiny binder rings and add to them year after year.
As an ELA teacher, these cards are my "go-to" resources for creating guided reading groups at the beginning of each year. It's really fascinating (to me) to look back and see their progress from kindergarten to the current year (or however long they've been at our school). However, a DNM (does not meet), M (meets) or E (exceeds) doesn't tell me everything I need to know about my students' writing abilities.
We are also required to have a beginning of the year writing sample on every student, so I created the following resource to help me gather information on my students as writers.
I don't use this on the first day of school. I usually have this ready for the 4th and 5th day, once we've had a few days to "warm up" to each other. :) I always, always, always read each prompt aloud to the kids. I think this is really important. I don't want reading the prompt to get in the way of their ability to connect and write. I also let the kids choose which prompt they want to use. I give them around 20-30 minutes to write depending on how focused the majority of the class is. Remember, this is a beginning of the year activity and their writing stamina is still a work in progress. The first day is strictly for brainstorming and drafting.
On day two, I reread the prompts and pass back their papers. I remind them to reread what they've written so far and add any details they may have missed or need to finish up their story. Then I let them use dictionaries to find any words they may need to fix. If they are "finished" early, I let them have an extra piece of paper to illustrate their story. I don't tell them this ahead of time or no one will add anything else to their story. They will all just want to draw. :)
(Note: I pay close attention to who knows how to use a dictionary and who does not. This lets me know if this is a needed mini-lesson or not.)
I always tell the kids this is NOT for a grade. It shouldn't be - it's the 4th day of school! :) However, these writing samples give me incredible amounts of information. By looking through them, I can determine who needs to be pulled in a strategy group for end punctuation. I can tell if I need to begin my noun lessons with proper nouns, plurals or possessives. I know which elements of narrative writing the majority of the class understands and which elements I'll need to focus on the most. I can immediately create editing partners with "equal" writing abilities. I can also pull out these samples during future mini-lessons when I'm looking for examples of particular elements or when we need to edit a particular skill. Do you see the possibilities?? :)
I hope you'll be able to use this freebie. I also hope you'll come back and share the things you learn about your students. I'm always looking for new ways to use this teaching tool!
Do you have a way to determine your students' writing abilities at the beginning of a new school year? I'd love to hear about it!