Student Reflections Confirm Teaching & Inform Grades

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

176511139Several years ago, I developed an inquiry question that asked if students use the language of workshop. Because I consistently use the “ELA Speak” of mentor texts, seed ideas, and generating strategies, I questioned, do students know these terms and use them to forge work?

This work began with a checklist of workshop language that I wanted students to leave eighth grade knowing and using. I culled the list from the ELA Common Core State Standards, the MAISA Units of Study, and my lesson plans.

I decided I would look at summative writing work to evaluate students’ use of these skills. Additionally, I felt strongly about students having their voice heard, so final work was accompanied by a reflection which asked students to name skills they now had as writers, to give examples of these skills in their writing, and to set a goal for future use of these skills.

Originally, I modeled a reflection that focused on the end-product skills my writing showed, and student reflections did the same. In my example, I wrote a reflection on our opening unit about narrative poetry. In this reflection you can see how I named skills that are explicitly evident in the published final copy, such as craft skills (alliteration, repetition) and theme.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but as I recorded language students named and used correctly or used and didn’t name, I realized that they were using the language of workshop, however, the tool I gave them to show this understanding didn’t allow everything to be shown. Namely, students didn’t name process skills or skills that students used to develop a final product, but I could see evidence of this work in my conference notes and in their drafts. In the next reflection, for the same unit a year later, you can see that I named generating and finding seeds as part of the journey to finding the topic I wrote about. Additionally, I explained several more skills that I used as a writer such as the overall structure and type of ending.

So, I made two changes. First, I more explicitly named the skills and associated lessons. I even hung these up in my classroom during the unit (pictured is literary essay unit).

Skills Bulletin Board

Skills Bulletin Board

Second, I created a model reflection that named process skills in addition to the end-product skills shown in my writing. I also exhibited this more thoroughly by writing in specific lines of my text that exhibit the traits I name in my reflection: Revised Reflection 2.

Now, student reflections named all of the skills learned and used. So, I know from reflections that students use the language of workshop in theory and in practice.

Reflections serve another purpose, though. As I grade the writing, according to a rubric which for me is a curricular model rubric assessing organization, content, and language use, I used student reflections as an accompaniment to reading the writing. For many language arts teachers, we take the student into account on these summative grades by considering, the growth that the student has achieved from conference suggestions, the specific use of skills from lessons, and the ability of the student.

As I read a student’s literary essay, I commented about the depth of commentary with the statement, “Commentary – how does this evidence relate to your claim/topic?” In my classroom, I work with students to understand that commentary re-explains evidence, tells why evidence is important, and relates evidence to claim, topic, other evidence. I muddled between the score of adequate and below. Deciding on adequate for the overall content of the paper, I read the student’s matching reflection. He stated in the future goals section, “I would take more time, and think deeper about what my claim should be. I think that I took the easy and the most obvious route. If I had taken more time, and thought deeper, I could have created a more sophisticated essay with better evidence and commentary.” This statement validated the “adequate” score I gave for the student’s essay content.

Overall, I use reflections to inform my teaching and to give students voice as I grade their papers. In the example, above, it was as if the student was sitting next to me as I graded the writing. Throughout the year, as students reflect on each unit of reading and writing, they can see their growth over time. As students are allowed to think about what they have actually learned through the course of a unit and show evidence of that learning, the writer improves more quickly over time because they can think deeply about their writing decisions and exhibit inquiries about their own work. These inquiries help to increase the amount of independence the writer possesses while writing because they can make choices about the writing they publish.

pic 2Amy Gurney is an 8th grade Language Arts teacher for Bloomfield Hills School District. She was a facilitator for the release of the MAISA units of study. She has studied, researched, and practiced reading and writing workshop through Oakland Schools, The Teacher’s College, and action research projects. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Central Michigan University and a Master’s in Educational Administration at Michigan State University.


6-8 Narrative Writing Student Artifacts

os_literacy_logo-stackedWet Mess
Grade 6. A story about two friends who make a mess at home.

Untitled Memoir
Grade 7. A memoir about a student’s struggle with math.

Untitled Memoir
Grade 7. A memoir about a family member’s death; an advanced example.

The Game
Grade 7. A memoir about playing organized basketball; an intermediate-beginner example.

Grade 8. A poem that explores the process of poetry writing.

The Stage
Grade 8. A poem about the feelings of performing onstage.

Grade 8. A poem about a swimming competition.

The Ice Rink
Grade 8. A poem exploring ice skating and changing seasons.

Our Rights
Grade 8. A poem exploring wars, individual freedom, and history.

K-2 Creative Writing Student Artifacts

os_literacy_logo-stackedSledding with My Mom when I Hit a Bump
Kindergarten. An illustrated story about sledding.

Kindergarten. An illustrated story about a rainy day of soccer.

I Start My School
Kindergarten. An illustrated story about an average school day.

My Flu Shot
Grade 1. An illustrated story about getting a flu shot.

Moving Beds
Grade 1. An illustrated story about the time the student’s parents got new beds.

Grade 1. An illustrated story about losing a tooth.

When the Cat Got Stuck on Our Deck
Grade 2. An illustrated story about a student’s rescue of a cat.

Grade 2. An illustrated story about a day of sledding.

Christmas Morning
Grade 2. An illustrated story about a surprise gift.

9-12 Informational Writing Student Artifacts


A True American
Grade 10. A presentation about Americans’ national identity and Muhammad Ali.

Grade 10. An essay, using hyperlinked text, about freedoms of speech in the modern age.

Mentor Poetry Research Project
Grade 12. A three-part assessment, including literary analysis and research, focusing on the poet Anne Waldman.

Mentor Poetry Research Project
Grade 12. A three-part assessment, including literary analysis and research, focusing on the poet Edward Hirsch.

6-8 Informational Writing Student Artifacts

os_literacy_logo-stackedPandas’ Extinction
Grade 6. An informational essay about the causes of pandas’ extinction.

1966 World Cup Final
Grade 7. An informational essay about the 1966 World Cup Final.

Prologue: Jim Crow Laws
Grade 7. A chapter that could have been included in a book about the Montgomery bus boycott.

Emmett Till
Grade 7. A chapter that could have been included in a book about the Montgomery bus boycott.

Year Round Schooling
Grade 8. An informational essay about year-round school calendars.

School All Year?
Grade 8. An informational essay weighing the costs and benefits of year-round schooling.

Not Just on Printing Paper
Grade 8. An informational essay comparing the pros and cons of 3-D printing.

K-2 Informational Writing Student Artifacts

Kindergarten. A graphical report about birds.

Big Leaf
Kindergarten. Three scientific observations about leaves, with drawings.

My Shell
Kindergarten. Several sentences, with drawings, describing a shell.

Pine Cone
Kindergarten. Sentences that use similes and drawings to describe a pine cone.

Foods Animals Like
Kindergarten. Questions and answers, with drawings, about the foods that animals eat.

Kindergarten. A pattern story about a student’s vacation.

How to Play Basketball
Kindergarten. A series of instructions about playing basketball.

How to Ride a Bike
Kindergarten. A series of instructions about bicycle riding.

How to Make a Pigeon
Kindergarten. A series of instructions about drawing a pigeon.

All About Butterflies
Grade 1. A graphical book, with a table of contents, about butterflies.

Grade 1. A graphical book, with a table of contents, about a rhinoceros.

How to Feed a Hamster
Grade 1. A graphical set of instructions for feeding a hamster.

Grade 2. A graphical report about sharks.






9-12 Argument Writing Student Artifacts

Money & Happiness
Grade 10. An essay arguing for the benefits and limitations of money. os_literacy_logo-stacked

The Great Gatsby: A Euphoric Fortune
Grade 10. An essay arguing that, according to Fitzgerald, money doesn’t make people happy.

My Sister’s Keeper
Grade 10. A film review exploring the issues of assisted suicide.

Detective Comics
Grade 12. A digital presentation, arguing the merits of a more recent portrayal of Batman.

Mentor Poetry Research Project
Grade 12. A three-part assessment, including literary analysis and research, focusing on the poet Anne Waldman.

Mentor Poetry Research Project
Grade 12. A three-part assessment, including literary analysis and research, focusing on the poet Edward Hirsch.