CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 12 . . . .February 8, 2008
Exemplars: Your Best Resource to Improve Student Writing.
Graham Foster & Toni L. Marasco.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2007.
158 pp., pbk, $24.95.
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Elementary).
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Secondary).
School prose, Canadian (English).
Review by Kristen Ferguson.
Over the past few years, many teachers have collected exemplars to set standards for writing. Typically, they employ exemplars as complements to rubrics with high, average, and low papers selected to demonstrate varied levels of achievement. Exemplars show what rubrics tell about assessment criteria. Usually referenced to grade levels, they illustrate student work in a way that may help other students improve their work.
Over the last decade or so, education has seen a rise in the popularity of the rubric. Rubrics are set levels of criteria that teachers use to assess or evaluate student work. But rubrics can be vague and often contain much educational jargon that makes them difficult to understand for many adults, let alone students. Exemplars are examples of student work. Combining rubrics and exemplars allows students not only to know the assessment criteria for a writing task, but also what a finished piece of writing looks like at the different levels. Rubrics tell, but exemplars show. This complementary rubric/exemplar combination allows students to use assessment criteria as well as examples to improve their own writing. That is the premise that Foster and Marasco present in Exemplars: Your Best Resource to Improve Student Writing.
Foster and Marasco's Exemplars: Your Best Resource to Improve Student Writing is organized around the six traits of writing model (content, organization, sentence variety, word choice, voice, and conventions). For each of the six traits, Foster and Marasco include a number of lesson plans that use exemplars as the key teaching strategy. Exemplars are clearly presented in blackline master format, ready to be copied or created into overheads. There is a good deal of variety used in the lessons. For example, in some lessons, students work with a single exemplar and learn how to improve it while, in others, students work with two exemplars, each created by a different student, and they must then compare the two exemplars. The exemplars in the book also cover a variety of writing genres including letter writing, persuasive writing, and story writing. While Exemplars: Your Best Resource to Improve Student Writing is not grade specific, it is suitable and could easily be adapted for any junior and intermediate grade.
The idea of using exemplars as a teaching tool is definitely not a new one. Foster and Marasco note that teachers have long been using samples of student work as instructional tools in their classrooms. While not a new idea, Exemplars: Your Best Resource to Improve Student Writing is a big teacher time-saver. Teachers also do not need to worry about singling out students by selecting work to show to the rest of the class nor need they spend time writing exemplars to use for teaching purposes. Not a writing program in and of itself, Foster and Marasco's book would still be an excellent resource to use alongside the six traits of writing, a popular writing model used in many schools. This is a book that is best dipped into to find a lesson that would enhance the instruction of a particular skill, rather than to progress through linearly. The one criticism of Exemplars: Your Best Resource to Improve Student Writing is that it is, at times, unnecessarily wordy. Even though the lessons are varied and interesting, some experienced teachers would likely skim or even skip the detailed lessons and simply use the exemplar blackline masters. It is redundant to continually state in lessons throughout the book how and why exemplars are useful for instruction.
The use of rubrics in assessment and evaluation does not appear to be waning and exemplars do, indeed, help students see what different levels of work on a rubric look like. Exemplars: Your Best Resource to Improve Student Writing will aid teachers in showing students how to improve their work and to raise their writing levels. This book would be a very helpful resource for junior and intermediate teachers of Language Arts, particularly those who are already using the six traits model. The timesaving exemplar blackline masters alone make it a worthwhile buy.
Kristen Ferguson teaches Language Arts at the Faculty of Education at Nipissing University and is a doctoral student in Education at York University.
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