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Reimagining Writing Assessment

From Scales to Stories

By Maja Wilson
Foreword by Thomas Newkirk

Maja Wilson offers teachers a new way of looking at writing assessment that takes a more authentic approach than scales and rubrics.

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“This book is for teachers who want to honor their students’ experiences as writers and readers—and their own.” —Maja Wilson

In Reimagining Writing Assessment, Maja Wilson shows us that by replacing the scales embedded in rubrics with new tools--an array of interpretive lenses designed to observe and describe growth—we can create healthier readers and writers who are more proficient in the long run and more motivated to read and write. She reminds us that “assess” in its Latin derivation means “sit beside.” In this book she models new ways of “sitting beside,” listening to student stories of the writing, respecting the writer’s intentions, and telling stories of our reading.

Taking the form of conversations, Maja’s new definition of writing assessment is not an outcome or final evaluation: it is an ongoing process in which writers and readers make meaning from texts and attempts, from intentions and effects. In this process, teachers come to understand how to teach and talk with each student about writing differently. And students learn to understand and take control of their own development as decision-makers.

Additional Resource Information

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Foreword by Thomas Newkirk
Ch. 1 Feedback Is the Answer: “But Wait, What Do You Mean by Feedback?”
Ch. 2 Out Tools, Ourselves: Hammers, Scales, and Writing Assessment Factories
Ch. 3 Swapping Scales for Stories
Ch. 4 Toward a New Theory of Formative Assessment: Healthy and Sustainable Growth in the Right Direction
Ch. 5 Assessment Phoropters: Interpretive Lenses That Illuminate Growth
Ch. 6 Voices That Help and Haunt Us: The Enabling, Paralyzing Paradox of Audience
Ch. 7 Writers Are People, Not Pac-Mans: The Stories of One Writer’s Growth
Ch. 8 How the Growth Lenses Can Help Us Teach

In Depth

In Reimagining Writing Assessment, I attempt to put a writer’s experience and needs consciously at the center of what writing assessment should be.

As it turns out, the experiences and needs of writers is a radical starting point for writing assessment theory and practice. Most assessment theory and practice has been guided by institutional concerns and a very coherent vision for social, economic, and educational stratification. In fact, assessment is key to the realization of this vision because it functions as the mechanism for determining how we allocate our collective resources and opportunities. We’d be wise to consider what this vision is, where and why it began in the first place, and where it leads. Otherwise, we run the risk of unwittingly participating in a system that violates our values.

The alternative assessment practices I will describe in this book will not neatly replace the rubric and appease the systems of account- ability that currently shape assessment. That’s because they serve different interests than those served by the accountability movement. In the ten years since Rethinking Rubrics was published, I’ve researched the ideas and historical figures that have shaped this societal vision and limited our conception of what assessment can be. I’ll relate some of that story to help explain why true alternatives are so doggedly difficult to create and sustain—and why it is so critically important that we do so.

— From the Introduction