Opinion
Assessment Opinion

Building Writing Skills, Fostering Agency: The National Writing Project’s Student Using Sources Tool

By Contributing Blogger — November 09, 2018 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By Linda Friedrich, Director, Research and Evaluation, National Writing Project

After piloting the National Writing Project's (NWP) Student Using Sources Tool with 8th graders in 2017-18, Susan King and Aimee Douglas, teachers at Lebanon Middle School in Lebanon, Mo., became huge advocates of using this assessment tool for supporting learning. In their view, the tool gave "students the power to improve their writing themselves." Because they have witnessed its positive impact, King and Douglas will continue its use this year. They plan to scaffold their students' use of the tool—starting with developing students' understanding of the tool's academic language, encouraging self-reflection, and ultimately building toward peer response.

NWP engaged teachers from around the country in developing, piloting, and refining the Using Sources Tool (UST) and related teaching processes as part of its College, Career, and Community Writers’ Program, designed to help students improve their ability to write evidence-based arguments. Middle and high school teachers and students who participated in piloting the student UST responded to two surveys focused on the impact of using the tool and recommendations for improvement. Students and teachers alike found that using the tool cultivates a collaborative, learning-focused environment; fosters independence; and builds complex argument-writing skills.

Cultivating a Collaborative, Learning-Focused Environment

Writing classrooms commonly feature peer-response opportunities. Yet teachers and students often find that the feedback given is often not specific enough to help writers improve. Both teachers and students emphasized that the UST changed this dynamic. As King reflected,

Peer feedback is more meaningful. Instead of having students hopefully give constructive criticism, peers use the tool on their peers' papers. Since everyone uses the same tool and used the same vocabulary, peer feedback and discussion becomes much more valuable. It allows Aimee and me, as teachers, to build relationships. We trust the students to use this tool to provide effective feedback for each other, and they, in turn, build that same trust. Having deep, rich conversations about writing builds a classroom community that lasts not only through the year but extends into the future.

Like King and Douglas, 72 percent of student survey respondents agreed that the UST helped them offer feedback to their peers. One student explained that the UST’s language was critical in helping students respond to each other’s writing:

...It put words to what I was trying to explain so it would make it easier to communicate what I was concerned with.

Fostering Independence

Both teachers and students found that the UST helped students improve their arguments without teachers taking sole responsibility for improvement. And the UST seems to foster student agency in writing and developing their arguments, as described by one student,

It helped me make independent decisions about what to do next in my argument writing.

Most teachers (79 percent) found that after using the Using Sources Tool, their students improved their written arguments. Importantly, 69 percent of students surveyed similarly believed that they knew how to improve argument writing without the teacher telling them what to do. Teaching argument writing, especially responding to students’ papers, is labor-intensive and time-consuming. Teachers’ and students’ perceptions of the UST suggest that it supports students in becoming more independent, while reducing the amount of time that teachers need to spend responding to papers.

Listen to the NWP Radio episode where teachers and students discuss how the UST fostered independence.

Building Complex Skills

In spring 2018, 79 percent of the teachers who piloted the student UST agreed that their students demonstrated a better understanding of key argument skills after analyzing their own and peers’ writing with the UST. While many students explained how the UST helped them do a much better job of acknowledging and explaining the credibility of the sources that they used in their argument, several emphasized that the UST helped them develop complex skills. One student wrote,

It helped me use specific sources and information so it wasn't a rant. Also I made it so it wasn't one-sided and gave more than one perspective.

Using source material to develop arguments is complex for learners of all ages. Once students get the hang of selecting evidence, teachers sometimes notice that students summarize their evidence or drop information in without connecting it to the claim. One student reflected that the UST helps surface this challenge:

We went and talked about what we needed to do more of and what we were pretty good at. I was pretty good at finding credible sources. ... But I actually had problems with my personal thoughts, like putting in, like, your experience.

Working with teachers and students in Mississippi, Missouri, and South Carolina, the National Writing Project has developed a set of instructional resources for introducing the UST to students and supporting its ongoing use as part of the teaching of argument writing. The UST teaches students to analyze their own and their peers’ writing for features such as use of information from source material, inclusion of multiple perspectives, and commentary that helps tie evidence to a claim. The ability to identify and evaluate these features fosters students’ independence as writers and thinkers and cultivates a collaborative classroom community with shared responsibility for improving student writing.

The opinions expressed in Next Gen Learning in Action are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Assessment Spotlight Spotlight on Assessment in 2021
In this Spotlight, review newest assessment scores, see how districts will catch up with their supports for disabled students, plus more.
Assessment 'Nation's Report Card' Has a New Reading Framework, After a Drawn-Out Battle Over Equity
The new framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress will guide development of the 2026 reading test.
10 min read
results 925693186 02
iStock/Getty
Assessment Opinion Q&A Collections: Assessment
Scores of educators share commentaries on the use of assessments in schools.
5 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Assessment Standardized Tests Could Be in Jeopardy in Wake of Biden Decisions, Experts Say
Has the Biden administration shored up statewide tests this year only to risk undermining long-term public backing for them?
6 min read
Image of a test sheet.
sengchoy/iStock/Getty