During my years with TPRS, student writing practices have evolved and changed. I’ve bounced back and forth between different styles and levels of monitoring. I’ve settled on using different techniques at different times. Here’s a description of what we do in order from least to most structured:
1. Quick writes – Sometimes at the end of a reading, song or other class activity, I ask students to write a short piece that extends or changes the text. This writing is very informal and is never graded for accuracy. Students often share what they’ve written with class, or I collect and read to myself.
2. Timed free writes – A few years ago, this was the only writing we did. I still use it but not exclusively. For a timed free write, students have a set amount of time (almost always 5 minutes). They are given direction, but their writing may lead them anywhere. There is one key rule. DO NOT STOP WRITING. They must write for five minutes and stop immediately when the buzzer sounds. Usually, the prompt is a picture collage or a projected prompt. I used to give students a list of vocabulary terms to use, but I’ve moved away from that. I’ve found the evaluation of their skills even more authentic when they have nothing in front of them but a sheet of paper. I often give them options for writing – one that requires creativity and one that is a summary of something that has happened. I want the creative students to be free, but I don’t want any student’s lack of creativity to hinder the flow of writing.
The goal is creating as much language as possible. When they are finished writing, students count the number of words they have written. This year, we have been charting number of words in order to measure growth. I read the writing as an informal evaluation but do not score for accuracy.
3. Rubric based essay – A rubric based essay is more formal. Students have more time and must focus more on accuracy. We complete the writing in class. Completing the writing in class provides more focus from students than an out-of-class assignment. It also prohibits computer translation or other forms of cheating. Students have a rubric with several categories and a few prompts from which to choose. Students may use notes and dictionaries while they write, but they may not talk to others or ask me for help. The use of resources may seem unfair, but I make a few key points to the students:
A. I am not merely evaluating their knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. I am evaluating their ability to “put it all together” and use Spanish to create a coherent essay. Dictionaries and notes will not help a student who cannot write otherwise.
B. One of the categories on the rubric is “comprehensibility”. Their writing must be comprehensible to fellow students. Overuse of resources will quickly result in incomprehensibility and reduce the score.
In my experience, students have done well managing their permitted resources and do not abuse the privilege. I do score these writings for accuracy according to the rubric.
4. Take home essasys – This writing is rare and usually only used in upper levels. It is similar to in-class rubric based writing, but students complete it outside of class. I make it very clear that computer translators are illegal and will result in incomprehensible writing. Again, my experiences have been good the few times that I have assigned out of class writing.