Assessing Assessment

“Assessment is today’s means of modifying tomorrow’s instruction.” – Carol Ann Tomlinson

A couple of posts back, I reminisced about my experience with my high school English teacher, who wielded what I lovingly termed “the red pen of death”. In that post, I discussed how grading and revision are such a detrimental step toward true learning and retention, and that in order to effectively teach first year composition courses we must give thoughtful feedback that shows how students can improve their creative processes. Today, I am going to touch on that and expand my position with grading and assessments by discussing rubrics and real-time assessment techniques.

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In the article “Tops for Teaching and Assessing Writing”, Brady Krien observes six techniques to help graduate teaching assistants become skilled in assessments: creating a focused criteria, prioritizing feedback, referring to resources, providing examples, checking-in with students, and allowing constant drafts and redrafts of writing assignments. Further, in the article “Know Your Terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics, author Jennifer Gonzalez explores the advantages and disadvantages of the three rubrics mentioned in the title. After reading these two articles, I learned a lot about how I will approach rubrics and assessments, and coincidentally learned a real-life example of assessing in real-time in the classroom.

Main Takeaway for Rubrics:

I’m going to be frank. I hate rubrics. I feel like students hyper-focus on rubrics rather than the actual details of the assignment, thus creating confusion. As a writing center assistant, there have been many times I’ve had to explain the difference between a rubric and assignment guidelines, two things that are so inherently different but students feel are essentially the same thing. Therefore, to ease confusion and “get to the point” with my rubric, I believe I will adapt the “single-point” rubric mentioned by Jennifer Gonzalez.

A single point rubric “breaks down the components of an assignment into different criteria”. Additionally, “it does not attempt to list all the ways a student could fall short, nor does it specify how a student could exceed expectations” (Gonzalez). The article continues to list two benefits to the single point rubric approach, but a huge plus that I feel the author may have overlooked is that by stream-lining criteria and getting to the meat of the grading, students won’t be confused in terms of expectations or standards for the assignment.

A way to state grading standards without confusing students? Sign me up!

Main Takeaway for Assessment:

All of the strategies Krien listed for assessments are absolutely brilliant, but for the sake of this post I will focus on one strategies: checking in..

Last week in my shadowing class, my mentor was out and a guest lecturer came to give a mini lesson on secondary sources in research. She gave an awesome presentation that really highlighted the fundamentals on secondary research, but halfway through the lesson I took a moment to look at the students. Most of them were genuinely confused with the analogy the guest instructor was making, and they looked anxious and uncertain. Once the lecture was done, the instructor gave a low stakes writing assignment to help students learn what they had just listened to. As I was walking around the classroom, I noticed that once again, the students’ confusion was palpable. It was at that moment that I realized that not only was I assessing the lecturer’s lesson and the student’s reception of the lesson, I was also assessing how to approach the situation overall. Krien even touches on this, saying:

Every class and every individual comes to each assignment with different skills and background knowledge and one strategy for meeting them wherever they are at in their learning process is to use classroom assessment techniques to check in on their progress and address issues early in the writing process (i.e. before 10:00 pm the night before an assignment is due). The “muddiest point”, where you have students write the part of the assignment that they are most confused about or are most struggling with, is a great way to get a sense of where you students are at and how best to spend class time in getting them to where they need to be.

Taking a page out of Krien’s book, I decided in that moment that it was in the best interest of the class to re-contextualize what the guest speaker had shared in conjunction to where the students were at in the class. We, in real time, addressed concerns and confusion and made a lot of ground with clarifying the main requirements for the assignment due that following Sunday.  By checking-in with my students in the moment, I was able to assess what was working and what wasn’t.

Mari’s Musing:

I think sometimes as instructors we limit our assessments to the final product: research papers, essays, academic papers. In reality, assessment is constantly happening in the classroom. It helps us as teachers know what’s working and make decisions in that moment on how best to address the corrections that need to be made, whether with the students’ work or with our own pedagogy.

Works Cited

Gonzalez, Jennifer. “Know Your Terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics.” Cult of Pedagogy, 1 May 2014,

Krien, Brady. “Tips for Teaching and Assessing Writing: Inside Higher Ed.” Inside Higher Ed, 21 Jan. 2018,

“Rubric (Academic).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Mar. 2021,

“What Is Secondary Research? + [Methods & Examples].” Formplus, Formplus, 23 Apr. 2020,

Zajac, Marielena. “The Critical Role of Thoughtful Feedback.” More on That with Mari Morgan, 15 Feb. 2021,

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