I Love the Writing Portfolio

I’ve long been using the writers portfolio in my writing program. I like the way it helps students to focus their thoughts. There’s a few hacks that I put on it that I think are necessary.


I usually start my portfolio with the definition of the big skills and strategies we been working on. I get the students to define the skills giving examples from their work. This is a way for them to reflect on what we’ve done.

I then get them to reflect on the diagnostic assessment that we did for this unit. I get them to reflect on what they did well and what they need to work on, both in their plan and in the writing. I like this throwback to the beginning of the unit for them to consider where they were.

pexels-photo-247708.jpegThen I get them to submit a certain number of plans and writing from the practice portion of the pathway. I get them to prove that they have been working on the feedback from the initial assessment. I get them reflect on why it is good. This is my attempt to get them back to the success criteria. Did they do what was expected of them?


One piece I’ve really enjoyed adding to my pathway is for the students to re-do the initial diagnostic assessment. My thinking is that after three or four or five weeks of work, they should be better writers. They will prove this by making big improvements to the writing diagnostic assessment. I think it’s important for the kids to look at the work that they’ve done and see how far they have come. This is a real motivating factor to make these big changes. With a first copy and the second copy, they can clearly see that they’ve made changes.

One thing I struggle with, especially at the end of the writing pathway, is managing all of the assessment. One thing if you want to try to limit in the amount of practice pieces that they give me. And get them to choose only the best and that is the piece that I can assess. Plus I don’t want to mark a whole lot of things if I can just mark a couple of things!

I also need to manage feedback for this. It’s tricky when I give feedback at the end of this pathway. It’s more of a summative assessment and proof of the learning. But at the end of the pathway managing all of that work and getting the right amount feedback is still a struggle.



Conferencing about Writing in Google Classroom

I have to post again about how transformative Google has been in my writing program.


I have a pretty unique year this year. I’ve never had so many reluctance writers before. I’ve had a few in years past but never this many at the same time. I am also doing language on rotary, so this means I have 50 students rather than just 25. What makes this year especially unique though, is that I need to keep a really close eye on these writers. In years past I could get them started on the task and walk away. This year I don’t have that luxury. This post isn’t about getting to the root of that problem. It’s more to celebrate one possible solution to the problem.

Google has been incredible for me. I’ve been working hard to manage my workflow. I’ve been trying to also collaborate with my students more effectively. To that end I have been trying to work collaboratively with students on their writing. I’ve also been trying to get real-time feedback in place for my students: feedback that is immediate and can be utilized right away.

I’ve always been one to have multiple tabs open in my browser. I don’t think this is a unique problem. But lately I’ve discovered that I can have students working with me on different tabs. So across my browser bar, I have six to eight student’s work right in front of me. I can pop in for a minute at a time on each student’s work. I can offer some feedback and suggestions. It’s virtually one step away. Rather than me travelling across the room and turning my back, and able just to click on a new tab. Just these last two days, I’ve got more writing that I have had all year from some of my students.

Tabs and Writing

My next step is to figure out why this is effective? My initial assumption is that it is simply babysitting. The simple act of monitoring is enough to keep them going. But what if something else is in play here? What if it is the motivation of immediate feedback that is important? What if it is the writing directly to an audience – me – with a response right away? I’m literally right there. And they are writing to me. Perhaps this is something to do with it?

Either way I’m really pleased with results so far. I’m getting a lot of writing from students that haven’t been writing. And I feel that I’m doing better monitoring the progress. And I feel it’s more efficient use of my time.



Thoughts on Writing

Students need to be writers, not just do writing. I treat the students in my class as writers. And I expect them to be writers. They need to think deeply about the writing. They need to look carefully at what they’re producing. That leads me to my next point.


True writing is inquiry. Students need to inquire into the texts that they are creating. They need to ask themselves: What kind of text am I writing? And how does this text work? That forces them to look deeply at the writing that they are creating. They need to do some research into how that text works. They need to figure out what a good example looks like. Before in my writing program, this was all on me. This is where I fear the form of the month leads to. I fear it leads to a passive development of writing. I want my students fully engaged in writing. I want them actively involved in creating writing pieces. That’s where the inquiry comes in.

I want my students fully engaged in writing.

The writer’s workshop should almost be boring. What I mean by this, is that students shouldn’t be treated with fantastical lessons every day. Not everything is a spectacle. They need routine and a calm environment in order to create. And this to me is like a laboratory. The main focus is on the work. To that end my lessons are not supposed to be longer than 10 minutes. They’re short mini lessons meant to move the student along. These are developed almost in real time. They are informed by the assessment that I gather throughout the class previous. They’re meant to inspire good writing now.


Students need choice. No I’m not talking free reign. But there does need to be some sort of personal choice in what they write. If allowed to follow their passions and interests, I believe they are better able to show their learning.

Students need practice. To get better at writing you need to write. It is as simple as that. The students need lots of practice time in order to hone their craft and get better at writing.

Not everything needs to be marked. This is where their portfolios come in. Students should be given the choice and determine what is their best piece. If allowed to choose their best they have a better chance of showing their learning.

I believe in process over product. I teach the skills of writing, rather than the forms of writing. I do believe that certain forms are important. And definitely we have to prepare our students to produce these forms. But more importantly, they need to be able to learn the process of writing. This is where skills are more important than products.

I really do love the curriculum

Sometimes a post doesn’t have to be deep meaningful. Sometimes it could just be a random thought that I have in my head.

Today’s random thought is brought to you by the Ontario language curriculum. So a couple things that I really appreciate in that document.

One of the things I really enjoy is in the reading expectations. They call it demonstrating understanding. They don’t call it summarizing. They call it demonstrating understanding. I find that is hugely significant. Over the course of my career I fear that the word summarizing has lost all its meaning. This is a powerful shift to what we want the kids to actually do. They need to prove that they understood what they’ve read.

Another thing really appreciate is the wording behind extending understanding. This isn’t making connections. This is something much more powerful than that. They need to take their understanding further. They can do this by making a connection, or a contrast or comparing it to either another text to their own experiences to something that’s been in the real world. I get excited about the shift. I think the shift is important.

My job is to teach the curriculum.

And I really enjoyed the Ontario language curriculum.

Too much independence?

I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of independence in my room. I value independence and most of the skills and strategies I teach lead towards independence. The ideas that we practice together we then practice by themselves so they can demonstrate mastery at the independent level. But when is too much independence?

This thinking came about with respect to my writing program. It’s in my writing program that I have layer the expectations. You start off relatively small. Then, as the year progresses, the expectations build upon each other. Towards the end of the year I’m asking them to do quite a few different and complicated things. But if they didn’t master the beginning of the year, they’re further and further behind.

I’m in a spot right now where I feel that I’ve got a gulf between two different kinds of writers in my room. I’ve got those that are thriving in my writing program and are producing longer, more sophisticated texts. The students have been set free. Their creativity is leading them in directions I can’t even imagine.

And then I’ve got a group of writers that are still very reluctant. Very overwhelmed. They did not truly engage in the writing program. Now I bet these types of writers exist in all different writing programs. But I think specifically in my writing program, they haven’t progressed because it’s just too complicated right now.

I’m particularly excited about this problem right now though. Because I’m able to monitor them more carefully, I can stay with them and lead them much more effectively now. As I’ve stated before in a previous post, I can have multiple tabs open on my computer. And through the power of collaboration, I can give them feedback in real time and watch them right from the comfort of my desk. But in this way also, I can lead them through the different expectations they haven’t been able to do throughout the year. I can give them prompts immediately. I can tell them what they need to do next. I can fill in the missing pieces. The ones they have been able to do by themselves yet. In this way I feel I can catch them up. I can get them to a space where they can become more independent.

So this is my reality now. Trying to catch up a group of writers. Possibly get them towards mastery. Even though I’ve left them behind. Hopefully, we’ll all get there together.