More Writing, Less Grading

Kelly Gallagher hits home when he blogs about how grading does not give writers feedback in a way that is useful to them. To emphasize his point, he points towards Nancie Atwell, a scholar well-revered in the K12 realm:

Recently, Nancie Atwell received the first Global Teaching Prize (and the $1 million award that accompanies it). This award nicely coincided with the release of her third edition of In the Middle, arguably the most influential book ever published regarding the teaching of language arts.  It is interesting that in this newest edition Atwell states:

I have never graded individual pieces of writing. Growth in writing is slow. It’s seldom straightforward, and it varies tremendously among young writers. It also happens on a wide array of fronts, as writers learn to generate, experiment, plan, select, question, draft, read themselves, anticipate, organize, craft, assess, review, revise, format, spell, punctuate, edit, and proofread. One piece of writing can never provide an accurate picture of a student’s abilities; rather, it represents a step in a writer’s growth—and not always a step forward, as new techniques, forms, or genres can overload any writer of any age (300).

This bears repeating and should be shouted from the rooftops of every school in the land: The teacher who was recently recognized as the best teacher in the world has not graded an essay in 40 years. Atwell’s students demonstrate remarkable writing growth, but let us not forget that her students’ growth occurred without a single essay being graded. Grading does not turn students into better writers. What makes Atwell’s students better writers? The same things that make our students better writers: Modeling. Conferring. Choice. And lots of writing.

Seriously. All of this that he says is helpful in defending my case for 1) not using rubrics to give feedback on student writing and 2) to not grade students at all. Basically, what I need to figure out is how am I going to make my students better readers and writers when I have to get through several novels in a semester, grammar, and much, much more.

What I am thinking is that I need to start using writer’s notebooks like Penny Kittle uses in her classroom. These notebooks will be the bottomless pit of student writing. All of their responses to core texts should be here too. This would eliminate study guides too.

Next, I need to work on not stopping as often in a text as we read. We spend a lot of time talking about the book as it goes along. I just worry that they won’t understand as much before we read. I do work on pre-reading activities for the content; it’s the language that turns the kids off.

Now back to what Gallagher was saying about Atwell…

I do want to do more writing, I guess I just don’t have prompts set to go for everything, and like Gallagher, I want the topics to be student-generated. This is something that needs to be scaffolded and considered in advance as students do need some sort of direction. I do have to enter grades into the gradebook, so I need to think about what I value and what my department values, and mediate those when needed. I am wondering if I can do grammar lessons using the texts as mentors and using their writing as starting points to play around with grammar.

Goals: less talking, more writing, figure out how to help kids with language during pre-reading


Mentor Sentences & Texts

I’m not sure how to format this on WordPress as I am a Google fanatic; I’m much more familiar with Google Sites that WordPress, but I’ll figure it out.


Jeff Anderson talked about using mentor sentences for not just grammar, but also genres in one of his workshops I attended last year at Wayne RESA’s “Writing with the Experts: Remix K12.” He recommended going to this website for resources.

While I like the website, it doesn’t seem to have been updated in a while, and I want to use sentences from texts that I’ll use in class. Unfortunately, this means Beowulf and Hamlet for my juniors.

Yes, there is of course, all of the below punctuation, but I do not think those are the best mentors. In concordance with this thought, we will begin with Disney stories looking at heroes to track the hero’s journey, which coincidentally, also has diverse grammar.



“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.


“Rule number five: concentrate,” Phil coached. He set up a row of targets for Hercules’ next lesson (Disney Adventure Stories, 104)


Em Dash (Dash)

Amphitryon handed Hercules a medallion. “This was around your neck when we found you,” he said. It had a thunderbolt on it–the symbol of the gods. (Disney Adventure Stories, 99)

That night, Herculues and Pegasus flew to Philoctetes’ home. He was a satyr–a half goat, half man–with a reputation for turning ordinary men into extraordinary heroes. (Disney Adventure Stories, 103)

En Dash (Hyphen)