Lisa Larsen, Jade Nipp, Sapphire Pataky and Alexandra Van Zanten.
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1. Introduction

Why Focus On Primary School Writing?

In any primary school classroom there will be a wide range of skill levels in terms of writing, because each student will be bringing varied experiences and abilities to the class. Some children are encouraged to and/or enjoy reading at home, while others won't pick up a book unless school requires them to. Extracurricular reading can be extremely beneficial to developing children, and could make reading and writing in class at a generic level less challenging for them. Similarly, some children's parents may regularly read to them, helping them become more comfortable with the English Language.
Due to the great diversity in skills between each student, the assessment of K-6 writing can be extremely difficult to gauge. The best work of one student may not come close in comparison to casual work done by another. The grammar, penmanship and vocabulary used by students will vary greatly, and determining who has put more effort into their assignments can be a trying task indeed.

Why Is Writing So Important?

Reason One: Written output is a great way to assess student knowledge.
Reason Two: Writing is an essential skill students need as they enter adult life.
Reason Three: Helping students learn to express themselves with confidence 
in all subject areas can contribute to improvements in behavior and self-esteem.
Reason Four: Students who write clearly will think clearly. And students who think clearly have a better chance of navigating their way through the obstacles of adolescence.

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Yes, there are many ways students can show us what they know. But writing is the simplest, most direct, most cost-effective, and most time-effective way for students to express their knowledge of a given subject. It is a valuable tool for teachers to get a glimpse of the individual thought processes of a large and diverse classroom population.
Writing can also act as a great emotional and clarifying outlet, facilitating the de-cluttering of ideas and proper deliberation of thoughts that may be causing confusion.
By teaching students how to write well, by showing them how to focus their intellectual energy in this unique and wonderful way, we give them a key that helps them unlock the complicated ideas and complex emotions we expect them to master as they mature.

For more details on these ideas see "Writing Across the Curriculum"

Where Students Begin


2. English Language Arts General Learning Outcomes

General Outcome 1:
Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to explore thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences.

General Outcome 2:
Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to comprehend and respond personally and critically to oral, print and other media texts.

General Outcome 3:
Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to manage ideas and information.

General Outcome 4:
Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to enhance the clarity and artistry of communication.

General Outcome 5:
Students will listen, speak, read, write, view and represent to respect, support and collaborate with others.

From the Programs of Study @ Alberta Education

3. Specific Learning Outcomes for Primary Writing


  • Express ideas and develop understanding
  • Experiment with language and forms
  • Use phonics and structural analysis
  • Construct meaning from texts
  • Appreciate the artistry of texts
  • Understand forms and genres
  • Understand techniques and elements
  • Elaborate on the expression of ideas
  • Structure texts
  • Focus attention
  • Appraise own and others’ work
  • Revise and edit
  • Enhance legibility
  • Expand knowledge of language

From the Programs of Study @Alberta Education

4. Assessment Strategies

Assessment is the gathering of information about student learning that informs our teaching and helps students learn more.

Keys To Quality Classroom Assessment: (according to Classroom Assessment for Student Learning)
  1. They are designed to serve the specific information needs of intended user(s).
  2. They are based on clearly articulated and appropriate achievement targets.
  3. They accurately measure student achievement.
  4. They yield results that are effectively communicated to their intended users.
  5. They involve students in self-assessment, goal setting, tracking, reflect on, and sharing their learning.

4.1 Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is formal and informal processes teachers and students use to gather evidence for the purposes of improving learning (Classroom Assessment for Student Learning). This is also know as assessment for learning.

Self Assessment:

Some strategies suggest that students assess their own work; these include peer review and writer's groups (Tompkins: 2011, 141).
Self-assessment in an educational setting involves students making judgments about their own work. Assessment decisions can be made by students on their own essays, reports, projects, presentations, performances, dissertations and even exam scripts(Click here for more info). Students also benefit from keeping a portfolio of past work (including that which was listed above), allowing them to look back and see where they have improved and what they have learned (Lenski and Verbruggen: 2010, 146).

Tools for self-assessment:
  • Check lists:
Self-assessment checklists are a great way for students to make sure that they are on track and meeting requirements. Teachers can get students to fill these out during assignments to act as a type of formative assessment. For tips to properly administer self-assessments look here.

Here is an example of a self-assessment checklist that students can use. More examples can be found in "Additional Resources."
  • Visual Cues:
It is important that students can understand what is expected of them in different assignments. Displaying examples of successful work, or providing visual cues that hint at what successful work looks like can be very beneficial for students. Two examples of visual cues that can be used in an elementary classroom can be found here and here.

A writing rubric is a formative (as well as a summative) assessment tool that also clearly demonstrates what is expected of students. Here is an excellent example of a rubric that can be used as a formative assessment tool.

  • Peer Reviews:
A peer review is an effective way for students to have their work assessed by other students in their class. Students are often given checklists or guidelines of areas that they should focus on, or what they should be looking for in the written work. This process allows students to practice giving and receiving positive feedback with the intent to improve everyone’s writing. To gain a better understanding of how peer review works, have a look at the video below that describes what NOT to do!

  • Portfolios:
There are many different kinds of writing portfolios. Portfolios can be used either formatively or summatively. One example of a writing portfolio is a “working portfolio” (Danielson and Abrutyn 1997). A working portfolio contains both “work in progress as well as finished samples of work” (Danielson and Abrutyn 1997).

An additional type of portfolio is a “Display” or “Show” portfolio whereby students can display their best work (Danielson and Abrutyn, 1997). These portfolios should be used to make the students feel good about their learning (Danielson and Abrutyn, 1997). These portfolios can be used for summative assessment or for formative assessment.


Conferences are a great way for teachers to engage with students and parents to discover what problems or difficulties individual students are having with their writing.

  • Teacher-Student Conferences:
In a brief one on one discussion teachers have the opportunity to evaluate where individual students are in terms of the learning outcomes. Additionally, it gives the students the opportunity to reflect on their work and express any difficulties they may be having. The focus of the discussion is for the teacher to provide the student with guiding questions to promote thoughtful responses based on knowledge and concerns. The teacher should not be providing answers but an opportunity for the student to share and reflect.

  • Gaurdian-Teacher Conferences:
Parent teacher conferences give teachers the opportunity to communicate with parents informing them of where their child(ren) is in terms of the learning outcomes, any difficulties they may be having and where the student is excelling. These conferences also give the teacher the opportunity to evaluate if there are any discrepancies between the student’s learning at home and in the classroom.


Observations assist teachers in gathering evidence of student learning to inform planning. This evidence can be recorded and used as feedback for students about their learning.


Questioning strategies provides teachers with insight into the degree and depth of understanding.

4.2 Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is assessment that provides evidence of student achievement for the purpose of making a judgment about student competence or program effectiveness.

According to Lenski and Verbruggen Summative Assessments should: "Focus on product, [be] closed-ended, scoring is objective and writing samples elicit specific forms or content" (137). Some of the assessments they suggest are:
  • Cloze Tests
  • Curriculum-based measurements
  • Elicitation
  • Grammatical transformation
  • Limited-response tasks
  • Ordering
  • Spelling Tests
  • Standardized Tests
  • Timed Tests
  • Vocabulary Tests (137)

Rubrics are very helpful when assessing writing because they clearly describe what writing looks like at each level in different categories. It is important to include the major different components of writing in the rubric, so that students who may score well in neatness, but not in spelling, have accurate and appropriate assessments of their work.

  • Here is one example of a rubrics to assess writing.
  • Here is a rubric that includes the major focuses of writing: reasoning, communication, organization and conventions. It is for a Grade 1 Assignment.
  • Here is an example of how a teacher marked a students work with this aforementioned rubric

In addition to end of unit tests, another summative assessment tool that can be used is an end of unit project. These end of unit projects can take many forms, but there should be a direct correlation between the desired learning outcomes and the content and form of the summative assessment (Johnson and Jenkins, 2009).

Finally, portfolios can also be used as a summative assessment tool (Johnson and Jenkins, 2009). This is a very effective summative assessment tool in primary school writing, because it provides a significant amount of information for the teacher to assess. It also can vary in size; a portfolio can be handed in every week, at the end of every unit, monthly, or even by term or year.

5. Cautions

  • Teachers should make sure that they are creating assessment methods that specifically pertain to a learning target.
  • Teachers can often create activities that include more learning targets than necessary, so it is important if it is a writing assignment to just focus on the writing skills that the students display.
  • The assessment methods that should be used in writing should have the overall goal of wanting to improve the student’s skills.
  • Assessment methods should focus on what the student can do to improve, rather than highlighting what they did wrong.
  • Teachers need to make sure that they are creating assessment methods that accurately measure the different components of writing, and not just focus on the overall quality of the piece of work.
  • Organization, quality, neatness and conventions are some of the categories that should be considered when assessing writing.
  • Because developing proper writing skills is very important in elementary school, students should be involved in the assessment process.
  • Students should know what is expected of them and understand what needs to happen for them to be successful.

For information and resources about additional challenges that teachers may face when assessing writing, please check the links below:


Learning Disabilities

6. Conclusion


From what has been said, it is clear to see that there are many techniques for accurately assessing primary school writing. The younger years are sensitive and vital times in children’s lives, and it is important to assist them in cultivating their writing skills so that they will thrive in higher grades. Sufficient writing abilities are important for all subjects, therefore proper assessment methods, both formative and summative, should be implemented to ensure that all students are being evaluated accurately and fairly.

7. Additional Resources

  • Ontario School Board - Examples of lessons with assessment methods for Grades 1-9
  • Illustrative Examples and Specific Outcomes For Grade One
  • BC: Writing Standards for Grade One, with examples
  • Illustrative Examples and Specific Outcomes for Grade Two
  • BC: Writing Standards for Grade Two, with examples
  • Illustrative Examples and Specific Outcomes for Grade Three
  • BC: Writing Standards for Grade Three, with examples
  • Illustrative Examples and Specific Outcomes for Grade Four
  • BC: Writing Standards for Grade Four, with examples
  • Illustrative Examples and Specific Outcomes for Grade Five
  • BC: Writing Standards for Grade Five, with examples
  • Illustrative Examples and Specific Outcomes for Grade Six
  • BC: Writing Standards for Grade Six, with examples
  • For links to create rubrics check here and here

Additional Examples:

8. References

Chappuis, J., Stiggins, R., Chappuis, S. & Arter, J. (2012). Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing it right – using it well. Pearson.

Danielson, Charlotte and Leslye Abrutyn. Introduction to Using Teaching Portfolios. Retrieved online October 2, 2012.

Davies, A. (2012). Making Classroom Assessment work. Connections Publishing.

Johnson, Evelyn and Joseph Jenkins. (2009) "Formative and Summative Assessment". Retrieved online October 2, 2012.

Lenski, Susan and Frances Verbruggen. (2010) Writing Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners K-8. New York: Guilford.
Peha, S.(1996) “Writing Across the Curriculum”. Teaching That Makes Sense. Retrieved online Oct. 2, 2012. From

Tompkins, G. BRithg, R., Pollard M., Winsor, P. (2011). The reading and writing processes. In Language Arts: Content and Teaching Srategies (5th Ed.) (136-148). Toronto, ON: Pearson.