Many teachers across the country have been exploring, and sometimes struggling with implementation of the new Common Core Standards. We’re hoping that the conversation that follows between Kathy Hoyt, a kindergarten teacher in New Jersey, and Eileen Feldgus, co-author of Kid Writing, will be helpful to you. Kathy is generously sharing her struggle to continue engaging her kindergarteners in Kid Writing in light of the new Standards.

Response from Eileen:  

Kathy, I wrote the article below hoping that it will help you as well as many other teachers across the country who are facing the same challenge…..continuing their success with Kid Writing in light of the new Common Core Standards.

Inquiry received from Kathy:

I teach in a New Jersey School District where we have been enthusiastically using Kid Writing for the past twelve years with our Kindergarten students. We have had amazing results with children becoming proficient and advanced writers.

- Now that the Common Core Standards have been revised to include composing opinion, informational/explanatory, and sequential writing, how can we maintain the integrity of the Kid Writing approach to Writer’s Workshop while meeting these Standards?

Additionally, our New Jersey School District has adopted the Model Curriculum as well as the English Language Arts Assessment Model (ELA). The ELA provides a writing rubric to be used for writing assessment in K-1. We are currently using the Conventions of Writing Developmental Scale developed by the School District of Lancaster (2002).

- What is the most appropriate and comprehensive way to assess Kindergarten writing?

Kid Writing and Common Core Standards
A Winning Combination!

Eileen Feldgus, Ed.D.
February 1, 2014


Let’s begin with the acknowledgement that I’m a strong believer in Standards!
After teaching Kindergarten for twenty-five years in Philadelphia, during which time I developed the Kid Writing process in my own classroom, I became a Teacher on Special Assignment to the Office of Assessment, a department of Central Administration of the School District of Philadelphia. In that capacity, I attended a two-week course with Linda Darling-Hammond at Harvard University on the, then, newly emerging field of Standards. From 1995 through 2000, I worked on the creation of Standards and the collection and creation of Early Literacy Assessments. SO, all that follows reflects my experiences as an early childhood educator with an intense interest in children’s early literacy development as well as my experiences in working at the forefront of the Standards movement.  

In order to understand my recommendations on appropriate and effective assessments of Common Core Standards, along with Best Practices (Kid Writing) to meet these standards, it is important to understand the following:  

  Understandings about Standards There is a distinct difference between Content Standards and Performance Standards.

  - Content Standards tell WHAT students should know and be able to do.
  - Performance Standards tell HOW WELL they should be able to do that which
  the Content Standards designate.

  Common Core Standards are Content Standards. New Jersey calls them
  Core Curriculum Content Standards.

  Understandings about Assessment There are different and sometimes overlapping and/or competing purposes for assessment. When choosing appropriate assessments, districts must first determine and prioritize their purposes.
-The primary purpose for assessment may be to help teachers help children by revealing what each student understands and what that student still needs help in understanding.
-The primary purpose for assessment may be to assure that curriculum is being 
being implemented. Assessment drives Curriculum!
-The primary purpose for assessment may be to collect data on how large groups of students perform. This may be to track trend data over time and/or to make comparisons group to group.

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  Understandings about Kid Writing/Writing Workshop Let’s be clear that Kid Writing/ Writing Workshop time on a daily basis is a teaching and learning time, not an assessment time. In most districts, children’s writing samples are formally assessed using a prompt once each reporting period. The goals of Kid Writing are to joyfully and quickly bring children to the point where they can independently write down their thoughts so that a reader can figure out the child’s message. This requires the child’s ability to accurately use high frequency words that have been explicitly taught (word wall) and to effectively “stretch-through” other words to the point where those words are phonetically logical and contain enough sound-symbol correspondences to be understood. Initially, vowels are often inaccurate or not yet represented. When children write in a natural language flow, as recommended, punctuation is often missing or inaccurate. We must keep in mind that our young children are developing as writers. It is unreasonable and counter-productive to expect five year olds to spell and punctuate as well as high school students! 

  Teachers across the country have been extremely successful in bringing young writers to high levels of literacy development, joyfully and quickly, through the Kid Writing process. The Kid Writing process is critical in children’s ability to “get those thoughts down” whether it be narrative, informational, OR persuasive (opinion) pieces!

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Pulling it all together  

IF, our purpose for writing assessment is to help teachers to help young children become better writers, 
  THEN, what makes the most sense to me is to use a Developmental Writing  
  Continuum in Kindergarten (regardless of the genre of the writing) and then to add 
  A Six Trait Rubric in First Grade once a child has achieved the Phonetic Level  
  on the Continuum. I strongly recommend the Developmental Writing Continuum 
  developed by the School District of Lancaster.  I like it because it’s 
  comprehensive, aligns with J. Richard Gentry’s Stages of Spelling Development,
  and puts a priority on having children write in a natural language flow rather than
  on emphasizing ending punctuation in a series of short, simple sentences.  

  Important – When using a Developmental Writing Continuum, most districts give a 
  prompt, sometimes related to a literature selection. Continuums reveal a child’s
  Independent writing level – that which a child can do without help.

IF, our purpose for writing assessment is to assure that curriculum is being implemented,
  THEN, what makes sense to me is to develop personal writing portfolios that 
  document that each child has written in a variety of designated genres.  
  Note that the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards document suggests 
  that students 
  - Engage in narrative, informational, and opinion pieces – WITH GUIDANCE
  - Begin to collect favorite work samples to place in a personal writing 
  folder. Some districts save many pieces per genre; other districts suggest
  Best Works Portfolios in which children save their BEST work in each genre.

  Important – Because these pieces are legitimately created “with guidance and 
  support,” they are NOT a reflection of what a child can do on his/her own.  
  Therefore, they are used to meet the standard that “Students write for a variety of
  purposes” but should NOT be scored for quality of content or conventions. Analytic
  Trait Rubrics that are genre specific may be used by teachers and children (when
  appropriate) to understand the genre. Note that these may be different (more genre-
  specific) than Six Trait Rubrics.

IF, our purpose for writing assessment is to collect data,
Portfolio collections can document 
  WHAT KINDS of writing children have engaged in (narrative, informational, opinion).
Developmental Writing Continuums can document 
  how skilled they are at using the conventions of writing. 

Prompts vs. Self-Selected Writing
Although children are usually faced with prompts for assessment purposes, Katie Wood Ray, in her Reading Teacher article, “Why Cauley Writes So Well in His First Grade Classroom” makes the point that children write more and write better when they write about what they know about and care about. As teachers, we KNOW this to be true! However, if children are to perform well on prompted assessments, we must prepare them for that venue. The best preparations are
  1. to develop each child as a writer on a daily basis through Kid Writing using self-selected
  genres and topics
  2. to teach children how to respond to a prompt just before assessment time
  3. to model and specifically teach what counts as good writing in each genre and to
  engage children, full-class, small-group, and individually in various genres

When to Assess? vs. What to Assess?
Kindergarten – Assess conventions through use of a Developmental Writing Continuum
                        Assess genre evidence through Portfolio Collection (checklist)
First Grade -   Assess conventions through use of a Developmental Writing Continuum
                        Assess Six Traits through use of Six Trait Analytic Trait Rubric
                           after child has achieved Phonetic Level on Continuum. Continue
                           to use continuum to assess conventions until end of 2nd grade.
                        Assess genre evidence through Portfolio Collection (checklist).
                           By end of year, assess genre quality through use of a genre-
                           specific rubric.

  .SO, the winning combination is Kid Writing to develop children as writers, along with appropriate assessment to document achievement of Common Core Content Standards.

Kathy’s response after meeting with her Principal and her district’s Literacy Curriculum Director:

The Principal and the Literacy Curriculum Director of our district graciously accepted Eileen’s suggestion of using student portfolios to ensure that the writing genres designated in the writing standards are being met. These pieces will be completed with guidance and support and, therefore, will be used to meet the genre requirements but will not be assessed for the quality of writing (conventions) demonstrated.  

The mastery of children’s use of conventions will continue to be formally and informally assessed using both prompted and unprompted pieces using the Conventions of Writing Developmental Scale. Our administrators completely agreed that this is the most useful tool for teaching purposes and, more importantly, for facilitating and insuring children’s learning.

We were very pleased to have such good and thorough communication with our administrators throughout this decision-making process. What a joy to be working together for our children!

Although this document was written in response to a NJ teacher, the suggestions can apply or be adapted to any of the states that have adopted the Core Curriculum. We hope it will be useful to all the wonderful teachers who wish to raise their voices in the interest of preserving Kid Writing as a BEST best practice for young children!