Student Generated Questions Provide a Quick Assessment

I am planning a Skype next week (hopefully) with Ryan Scala’s third grade students on writing. Both classes have just completed TCRWP informational writing Unit of Study.

To prepare, I asked my students what they would like to ask about informational writing. The minute they started talking I realized this was a giving me much more than I expected.

The “get to know you” questions showed what matters to students as writers. Fun and favorites came up a lot.

  • What’s your favorite writing topic?
  • What is the number one thing you like about writing?
  • What’s your favorite piece?
  • How many things have you written?
  • How do you make your writing fun?
  • Do you like writing?
  • What new things did you learn?
  • Was it fun learning about what you wrote about?  Did you find it interesting and cool?
  • Would you have chosen another topic now that you finished writing?

Getting ideas and getting started is a major concern for my students.  (But isn’t this true for all writers?)

  • How do you get an idea of what you’re going to write?
  • How do you get started to write?
  • How do you gather your information?
  • Why did you pick your topic?
  • How long did it take to write your last piece?

I was excited to see questions that showed their awarenesses of narrative informational writing. I’ll look for approximation of this in their writing.

  • How do you make your writing sound like your were really there?
  • How did you make your story come alive?

Some questions revealed knowledge, in this case around organization of a text. Students have co-authored a piece with each contributor taking responsibility for a section. This could have caused their hyper awareness of structure. I’ll be looking for this to come through in their on demands.

  • How do you structure your informational writing?
  • What did you put as your sections?
  • Why did you organize it that way?
  • Did you add a table of contents?
  • How will your organize your next topic?

Some questions revealed writer’s concerns. Conferences are needed around these issues.

  • Have you ever messed up a story and had to do it again?
  • How do you get your sentence to make sense?

Audience and form matters — always. Had I asked them to tell me what they had learned in this unit, they probably would have written what was on my charts. But asking them to create questions for other students put this in an entirely different light.  This five minute exercise gave me a quick look at my students’ understanding of and attitude toward informational writing. Giving students the opportunity to create questions for an audience that matters turned out to be an interesting assessment tool.