Parents often say to me, If only I’d known earlier what to look for in his writing….
It can be difficult to know whether your child’s writing is progressing as well as it could be. School report comments are usually limited by space and can’t possibly tell you the whole story. If you wish, you can become more proactive and assess your child’s writing progress yourself.
How to assess your child’s writing progress at home
1 Compare earlier work with recent work
You probably see your child’s homework books on a regular basis, but only see his schoolwork when a book is completed, or at the end of the year. The information in his school books is extremely valuable, however, as it allows you to compare earlier writing with recent writing. The work is usually dated. Your comparisons will tell you whether your child is progressing or not.
Once a term (or whenever you feel you want to check your child’s progress), write a note to his teacher to ask if you can bring home ALL his workbooks and writing books for the weekend. It’s best to give a few days’ notice and make it very clear that you’ll return them first thing on Monday morning. (And don’t forget them when Monday comes!!)
Firstly, look to see if there is a writing book, and if the work inside is dated.
Look at your child’s recent work and compare it with his work three months ago. Draft writing provides the greatest information. ‘Good copies’ will probably not reflect your child’s true level of writing as it is likely to have had input from other sources (teacher-corrected, spell-checked etc).
Here are the most important things to look for and compare:
- Does your child do any planning for his creative writing (diagrams, dot points, evidence of discussion etc)?
- Does he write texts using full sentences, and do the sentences flow in a logical sequence?
- Are his sentences becoming more complex, and is he making an effort to use a broader vocabulary?
- Is he writing some different types of text, (at least a few of the following in the early years: recounts, lists, procedures, stories, reports, retells, reviews/opinions, diary entries, answers to comprehension questions, surveys, expositions/ads; and more complex versions of an increasing range of these in the later years)?
- Is he writing for some different purposes and audiences?
- Is he editing his own work (eg fixing some spelling errors, moving words or sentences around with arrows)?
- Is he getting written feedback about his writing, and are the comments helpful and positive?
Now find his spelling work (probably in a different book) and look at this as well. Is it also dated?
- Is he applying any of the spelling patterns and words he learned three months ago in his recent writing?
- Is his handwriting legible? I put this last because it’s more important to address content skills first. However increasingly sloppy handwriting may indicate increasing lack of interest in writing. If this is happening, it means he needs more writing for real purposes and more feedback about the content of his writing. Then he will value writing more and probably start caring about his presentation.
Next, look at his other workbooks. There will probably be further examples of different types of text in these, eg procedures (Science/Art), surveys & reports (Society & Environment/Health). They may also be dated. Use these as extra writing samples to continue your overall assessment of his progress.
2 Ask some probing questions
Find out what your child knows and thinks about in writing by asking about a couple of pieces of work of different text type. Be calm and interested, and ask these questions in a conversational tone of voice. It’s not an interrogation!
- Did you write this by yourself?
- Why were you writing it?
- What type of text is this? How do you know?
- What did you do first? (or How did you start?)
- What’s your favourite part (or sentence or word) in this piece of writing? Why?
- Is there anything you’d change if you were starting again?
- Did you write this for someone in particular? Who else do you think might like to read it?
3 Talk with the teacher
After looking at your child’s work and talking with him about it, you may want to meet with his teacher. Book your meeting in advance, letting the teacher know what it’s about.
Your meeting may be to say that you’re very happy with his progress, and ask how you can give more support at home to keep him moving forwards. Or it may be to voice a concern based on your recent assessment. If it’s the latter, ask specific questions relating to what you’ve noticed, and how you can help your child progress.