As my first year of teaching progresses to its conclusion in this my second semester, I find myself asking what have my students learned? What have they done that holds value for them? What can they share with others? What grades have they earned?
Prior to reading the chapter titled “Valuing and Evaluating” I would have unquestionably replied that I should assign the students’ grades for the value of the work completed. Atwell suggests a different approach, “Whether I’m teaching in a system that requires letter grades, number grades, or doesn’t grade; whether I have 125 students or 25; whether there are standardized tests, local assessments, final exams, teacher narratives, or portfolios; if I’m teaching in a workshop, I have to figure out how to put students’ appraisals of their work at the heart of the evaluation process” (301).
Every student should be involved in the evaluation process by completing a self-evaluation and producing a portfolio of selected work for a final evaluation. Students complete a self-evaluation in response to a questionnaire created by Atwell. The questionnaire asks several essential questions that provide hard data such as: How many pieces of writing did you finish this trimester (her school runs in trimesters rather than quarters) (303)? She also asks several questions about reading and what genres her students have created and read.
After finding the base data, Atwell is able to evaluate the student based upon student and teacher generated goals that she creates with her students each trimester. Next, Atwell has the students share their own preferences of work compiled during the trimester.
To me, this looks like a very strong way to teach students accountability while teaching them the importance of setting and achieving goals. As I discussed earlier, several students struggle with writing because they cannot find the value or meaning behind their own writing. Atwell’s techniques seem to provide both a sense of purpose and meaning for every student.
Atwell says, “ Teacher evaluation in the workshop must focus on the big picture: who a student is becoming — and who he or she might become — as a writer and reader” (314). After taking the students goals and likes into consideration she acknowledges that evaluation must also be based upon the students abilities and evidence provided in both the journal and other everyday classwork.
Though Atwell’s system is simple it borders on brilliance. Having students write and read more by providing them choice in activities and goal setting will naturally progress them to be both stronger readers and writers, at the same time students will be more likely to push themselves in order to achieve a realistic goal that they themselves have set. Using students’ goals as a means for demonstration of quantitate accomplishment in combination with the compilation of students’ abilities easily translates into an effective means of student evaluation.