BIG NEWS!!: TeachThought PD is now ThoughtStretchers Education! Click to learn more

How I Helped My Students Assess Their Own Writing

contributed by Peg Grafwallner, M.Ed.

As the School Support Teacher/Reading Specialist of a large urban high school, I create, develop, implement and assess lessons with teachers of all content areas.

I consider myself extremely lucky because every day is a new learning and every day is a new partnership. I had the good fortune recently to collaborate with the art teacher, Mr. Chad, who asked me to read approximately 50 papers with the topic, “Know Thyself.”

This was a junior art assignment in which the writer was to explain an event in his/her life that caused a discovery, a turning point or an opportunity.  One might consider Chad’s class an anomaly among art classes in that he expects his students to write almost as much as expects them to create art.  Chad expects his students to connect to the literacy of art.

As I was reading the papers, however, I was surprised at the poor quality of the writing. These are academically strong students with good writing skills. What happened, I wondered?

Several papers read like an awkward stream-of-consciousness teenage ballad suffering from an absence of cohesiveness; many papers lacked complete thought but rather assumed I knew exactly what the writer was trying to say; some papers were missing the basics of proper grammar, punctuation, sentence structure; and the final few used the ambiguous “stuff,” “junk” and “things” as suitable vocabulary while incorporating a series of run-on sentences so long-winded that I ran out of breath.

Because this was an art class and not an English class or a humanities class, was the writing portion of the assignment not taken as seriously? Did students assume Mr. Chad wouldn’t be “looking” for the writing basics, so students decided to forego them? Did students compartmentalize their learning and lack the transfer skills necessary to make the writing connections among classes?

After showing Chad the papers, we discussed our next step. We didn’t want to simply return the papers and require revisions, but rather understand why the errors occurred. Giving the usual lecture expressing disappointment and offering another due date was not the answer in determining support. We decided to survey students asking them to help us understand the breakdown in their writing skills.

We opted to give the survey first. I read each question and gave students time to respond. Because we were inherently interested in their responses, we wanted to show them the value of the survey by giving them time to think and process.

Preparing Students Self-Assess Their Writing

Figure 1:  Survey


Name:  ______________________________________ Date:  ____________________

Upon reading the “Know Thyself” papers, the writing errors were grouped into four distinct categories:

1)  Inability to create a well-thought out paper: random thoughts, lack of cohesiveness

2)  Assuming your audience knows your background or what you’re “trying” to say

3)  Lack of basic writing skills: proper punctuation, sentence structure and mechanics

4)  Unsophisticated vocabulary and run-on sentence structure

We would appreciate your honesty as we determine why the mistakes were made and how to best partner with you to rectify them.

1)  Did you take the assignment seriously?  Why or why not?

My response before seeing my paper



My response after seeing my paper




2)  Were there barriers to your writing success?  If so, what were they and how can we support you in overcoming these barriers?

My response before seeing my paper



My response after seeing my paper




3)  As you look at the four categories, which mistakes were the ones that you made?  Why did you make them?



My response before seeing my paper



My response after seeing my paper


4)  Your final comments:



My response before seeing my paper



My response after seeing my paper


Figure 2:  Survey with Student Responses

 1)  Did you take the assignment seriously?  Why or why not?

Student #1

My response before seeing my paper: I did take it seriously but I have to admit that I rushed a little bit.  I tried to write it in an organized manner but I guess the time limit affected it.

My response after seeing my paper: I took it seriously because I did get some of my ideas across, but I made many mistakes in doing so.




Student #2 I did and didn’t.  I tried my best on writing it, but I was lacking on what to talk about. Yeah, I took it serious because I tried using more advanced words.
Student #3 Yes, I took it seriously but I didn’t know exactly what elements or information to include.  I tried to add in personal and art aspects of the artwork.

Yes, because I am a person who likes to improve and learn more. 


Student #4 I didn’t take it that seriously because I was overwhelmed by my other classes at the moment, so I just wanted to meet the deadline. After seeing my paper, I can see I really didn’t take it seriously because there are so many errors that could have been avoided.
Student #5 To be honest, I did not take this assignment as seriously as I should have.  I didn’t really try to advise my paper or check to see if there were any mistakes that I should’ve changed. I did not take this assignment as seriously as I should have.  It is very obvious that I rushed through the process and did not think out my ideas as well as I could have.
Student #6 Not really.  I was so upset on how my piece turned out and how time-consuming it was, I just wrote it in one day.

I did better than I thought.  I thought I did a lot worse. 


Student #7 Yes, I put a lot of thought and tried to make it seem emotional. I took it seriously, but then I started lacking towards the end.
Student #8 Yes.  When I started writing I took the assignment seriously, but then when I was running out of ideas and I later stopped caring. Maybe not.  I have a lot of errors and punctuation mistakes.


Figure 3:  Survey with Student Responses

2)  Were there barriers to your writing success?  If so, what were they and how can we support you in overcoming these barriers?

Student My response before seeing my paper My response after seeing my paper
Student #1

I was a little bit behind with my art projects, and this was put out till the end for about two weeks. 


Again, time limit
Student #2 Yes.  I was stressed on how to work Photoshop successfully, so when I finished I was anxious to just fining the writing and catch up. Yes, same as “before”
Student #3 Yes, I have homework almost every day or quizzes so it’s difficult to get on a computer [sic] and try to come up with ideas. Yes, I did not define some of the parts in my paper so that can improve.
Student #4 Yes, there was other classes to which I had to be prepared to take tests on. Yes, as I mentioned before I was overwhelmed by my other classes especially since they are of much higher level in comparison to my sophomore year classes.
Student #5 Yes, during the time of writing this paper I was falling behind on several art projects as well as assignments from my other classes. Yes, while writing this paper, I really rushed to get it done and over with so I could turn it in on time and be able to use my spare time outside of art to work on assignments for my other classes.
Student #6 I go home and cook every day and that takes a while, so when I did do homework, there were review packets for the exams. Same reason.
Student #7 Yes, I had other homework, and I get distracted easily. I had other homework and felt like I was losing the will to end off strongly.
Student #8 Yes.  I had barriers when I was writing the assignment.  The TOK Extended Essay, study for exams, finish my other art projects, it was chaotic.

Definitely, I was so focused on my other subjects that I just didn’t take this seriously. 



Figure 4:  Survey with Student Responses

3)  As you look at the four categories, which mistakes were the ones that you made?  Why did you make them?

Student My response before seeing my paper My response after seeing my paper
Student #1 I think I make the first mistake very often (rather than punctuation and run-on sentences) because coming up with an introduction is what takes me the most time, and in this case, I didn’t have a lot of time to organize my ideas.

I made many “common sence [sic]” errors, like spelling & stuff, but it wasn’t that bad. 


Student #2 #1.  I felt like I was being random #4.  I felt like my sentences weren’t well constructed.
Student #3 I think one and four because I’m not that good with using transitions in writing and making it flow.  I also lack in vocabulary.  I try to get better like if I see a word when I’m reading, I will look it up to see what it means.

I think four because my corrections were mostly using the right words.  I also need to define what I mean more. 


Student #4 It’s really hard for me to proofread my own paper.  Also I write as I would speak, and the vocabulary use. I need to proofread more and work on my sentence structure.
Student #5 Knowing the common mistakes that I usually make in my writing.  I most likely struggled with being able to write a well thought-out paper that doesn’t have any run-on thoughts.

The mistakes I made the most were having a lack of cohesiveness, random thoughts, and lack of basic writing skills. 


Student #6 I definitely think that there are several things in my paper that I can improve on, and I hope that this revision process allows me to realize my mistakes and come up with a more well-thought paper. Going through the revised version of my paper, I realize that I did not completely get my ideas across in the ways that I wanted.  When I do revise the paper myself, I definitely want to improve on getting these ideas across coherently as well as fix my basic writing mistakes I’ve made.
Student #7 #3 for the most part.  I just type and don’t revise the paper. Still #3.  Grammar issues.
Student #8 I need to use better sentence structure, and need a larger vocabulary.

I added words I didn’t need.  Need better vocabulary. 



Figure 5:  Survey with Student Responses

4)  Your final comments:

Student My response before seeing my paper My response after seeing my paper
Student #1 Proofreading could probably help us a lot, and look at examples as well. I’m definitely going to correct my paper, thanks for the feedback!
Student #2 It would have been helpful on what we had to write, like some ideas to build off from.

Maybe a list of “Don’t’” and “Dos.” 


Student #3 My paper could have been better.  If it was peer edited and I got more feedback making it easier to improve.  When you read it over and over, you don’t really notice all of the little mistakes so it’s easier for someone else to read it.

I am going to improve my paper and add more vocabulary.  Also I am going to be more clear with what I am saying in my last paragraph. 


Student #4 I really like writing so maybe it would have been helpful to get more time and help, because I was a bit confused at some times. Same comment
Student #5 Maybe if I took time to proofread it. I’m glad my paper was proofread, because clearly I didn’t do it.
Student #6 I feel like I could have done better and I know there are many mistakes. The beginning part of my paper was okay, but towards the end, there were more mistakes and my sentence flow became rough.
Student #7 This assignment was very meaningful to us, so I really was trying to make it so. I need to do a lot of proofreading and corrections.
Student #8 I need to proofread, but I thought I did. Thanks for reading it.


A Final Note About Roles & Responsibilities

Chad and I were surprised by the honesty of the student responses.  They told us how difficult it was to do homework at night; and when they did have the time, sometimes their content classes came first.  They also explained exactly what they needed from us and how we could help them get there.  They also offered a sort of contrition; humbled that someone would actually take the time to understand how to help.

We read each response carefully.  While we used eight sample responses out of approximately 50, we were confident that these eight responses spoke for their classmates.  We separated the responses into three categories of responsibility:

Teacher’s Responsibility Prior to Paper Submission Student’s Responsibility Prior to Paper Submission Reading Specialist’s Responsibility Prior to Paper Submission
Teacher distributes rubric with specific guidelines Students annotate rubric; asking questions for clarity Reading Specialist is available to answer questions
Teacher shows students exemplars of paper Students read exemplars and with a partner, highlight examples of strong sentence structure, accurate mechanics and sophisticated rhetoric Reading Specialist supports student pairs by demonstrating how these grammatical devices help to clarify and strengthen student writing
Teacher gives in-class time for students to write, revise and peer edit; Teacher is available during process to confer with students ensuring accuracy of assignment directions

Students use time to write, revise and peer edit their first draft. 

Students use time to confer with Teacher and Reading Specialist to ensure accuracy of directions and accuracy of writing

Reading Specialist is available to confer with students to ensure accuracy of writing



We believe these simple steps could assist students in providing better examples of their writing.  One might argue students expect this process in their English courses and in their humanities courses; but, because this process was bypassed in Art, one might contend that is one reason students did not seem to take the assignment as seriously as a “content” class.  Therefore, by reviewing the writing process with students in Art, they will realize the value of writing and the expectations associated with writing – in all classes.

In closing, prior to assigning this paper next time, we will create a rubric, have student exemplars ready and review writing guidelines.  We will allow for more time prior to the paper submission, giving students the opportunity to revise, self-review and peer review.  Chad and I are looking forward to this assignment again and like our students, we’re grateful for a chance to self-reflect and another chance to get it right.

*previously published at


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The following GDPR rules must be read and accepted:
This form collects your name, email and content so that we can keep track of the comments placed on the website. For more info check our privacy policy where you will get more info on where, how and why we store your data.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join our community!

Join our email list and you'll receive updates about events and more as we grow.

You have Successfully Subscribed!