Student Self-Assessment: A Powerful Process for Helping Students Revise Their Writing.
Professional and Grades 10 - 12 / Ages 15 - 17.
Professional and Grades 10 - 12 / Ages 15 - 17.
Teachers can encourage students to read examples of the kind of writing they are being asked to produce. If students are writing film reviews, for example, they should read several reviews in newspapers and magazines. Ideally, they would read conflicting reviews of the same film. In developing revision criteria for their own reviews, students might note topics that frequently appear in film reviews, such as audience appeal, quality of acting, technical features and emotional impact. Students might note the structure of film reviews-the way they are effectively introduced and concluded and the authoritative voice that characterizes them. These features can easily become revision criteria for students' own reviews.Student Self-Assessment, authored by the Language Arts Supervisor of the Calgary Catholic School Board, is a very useful, accessible manual for students striving to improve their writing skills. It contains many checklists which guide writers by providing clear criteria for each different writing assignment-whether it be composing poetry, writing a business letter, or producing an expository essay.
The book's major strength is that it promotes involving students in their own evaluation and encourages them to set specific goals to improve their writing. It stresses that the teacher and the students are working together to make progress, and it gives ownership for this progress directly to students. This method of evaluating develops critical awareness in a positive, supportive environment and is very likely to increase competency. It is a much more effective method than a plethora of red marks and teacher corrections in the margins of a piece of writing over which a student has agonized - a method of evaluation that makes even the most assured writer cringe!
Another strength is that students can see exactly where they can make improvements - so often students have no idea why they received a low mark on an essay. Peer evaluation is also used, as well as small group discussions, to help identify areas needing attention. This approach promotes direct feedback as students read and comment upon each other's work, and it also addresses the variety of learning styles found in the classroom.
Chapters three and four are particularly useful as they concentrate on several critical aspects of good writing. Details are provided on using correct parallel structure; focusing techniques are described-such as the RAFTS method on page 47; the writer's voice is emphasized (p 50); and the importance of "showing not telling" in creative writing is also identified. Chapter four is full of good advice and lists of criteria for teachers and students to modify for their own use. Very sane observations are given in reference to writing in specific forms. Particular criteria are necessary for each specific form of writing, and the checklists and suggestions make this explicit. Students need to know and apply the right criteria. Often students are confused about the purpose, audience, and form of their writing. The author emphasizes that adaption, not adoption, is the aim of these checklists - suggesting that five to ten criteria work best in most situations.
The book's major weakness, the one which prevented a four star rating, is the use of examples which are supposed to have improved the writing but do not. Often weaker and less "powerful" than the original, they demonstrate that the author is not always following his own advice. This is a serious flaw as students may not be able to identify that the example provided is not a good one. For instance, on pages 16 & 17, the writing goes from being too sparse to too flowery-from no descriptors to descriptors which are repetitious and obsequious. On page 25, a strong opening statement is replaced with a wordy and unnatural one.
A lesser, but still quite annoying, fault is the overuse of the word "powerful." It appears on many pages (as well as in the subtitle of the book), and sometimes more than once on the same page! The author does not expand his own vocabulary enough-a criterion for good writing that appears in all self-evalutions. Students would do well to use the checklists, ideas, and excellent guidelines addressing specific types of writing and to ignore some of the examples.
Student Self-Assessment would be most effective with struggling writers who need pointed guidelines to improve their writing. Linear thinkers would appreciate the step-by-step approach to the complex task of writing well. Global thinkers may not find the checklists as useful as they often write well because they read a lot and pick up skills through a process of osmosis. The entire book uses current educational strategies - learning logs, responses to literature, etc., and all of these promote the critical thinking capabilites of students. This book makes writing a much more conscious process for students.
A good index and excellent blackline masters of the checklists (with permission to copy for classroom use) appear at the end of the book.
Willa Walsh is a teacher-librarian in McNair High School in Richmond, BC, and a member of the BCTLA Executive.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
The Manitoba Library Association
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - OCTOBER 17, 1997.
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