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Writing Instruction Support: Evaluating Student Writing

GUR Competency Rubric

GUR Competency 1: Analyze and communicate ideas effectively in oral, written, and visual forms

Models: AAC&U Written Communication, Indicators 1, 2 & 3; AAC&U Oral Communication, Indicator 1; also informed by “Expectations for Student Writing at Western” (Writing Accountability Group document, May 2006).

Definitions: Written/oral/visual communication refers to the development and presentation of ideas in any of those forms.  This communication involves working in many genres and styles for varying audiences and purposes and can involve many different technologies as well as mixing texts, data, and images.  These communication abilities develop through iterative experiences across the curriculum.  Contextual knowledge refers to a demonstrated understanding of the needs of a particular communication setting. Focused development is the use of relevant, accurate, and compelling evidence in advancing a central idea.  Organization refers to the arrangement and shaping of ideas into a coherent structure.  Conventions are all the established practices agreed to by particular audiences and include mechanics such as documentation, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and formatting.

Framing Language: Research on oral/written/visual communication assessment shows that the best measures are locally determined and sensitive to local contexts.  This rubric focuses assessment on how specific work samples or collections of work respond to specific contexts.  Users of this rubric are urged to adapt it to their own disciplinary contexts.  Evaluators need to consider the assignments, audiences, and purposes for work being evaluated as well as any reflective work samples that suggest how students understood the assignments. 









Contextual Knowledge

Demonstrates a thorough understanding of audience, purpose, and situation.

Demonstrates an adequate sense of audience, purpose, and situation.

Demonstrates awareness of audience, purpose, and situation.

Demonstrates minimal attention to audience, purpose, or situation.

Focused Development

Uses relevant, accurate, and compelling evidence to support and focus a central message.

Uses relevant, accurate, and compelling evidence to support a central message.

Shows awareness of evidence relevant to a central message being developed.

Demonstrates minimal attention to evidence and development of a central message.


Arranges ideas in a structure that effectively and cohesively reflects ideas being developed.

Arranges ideas in a structure appropriate for ideas being developed.

Shows attempt at creating an organizational pattern appropriate for ideas being developed.

Demonstrates minimal attention to creating an organizational pattern for ideas being developed.


Consistently uses oral/written/visual  conventions for genre, presentation documentation, and mechanics

Generally follows oral/written/visual conventions for genre, presentation, documentation, and mechanics

Shows awareness of oral/written/visual, conventions for genre, presentation, documentation, and mechanics.

Demonstrates minimal attention to oral/written/ visual conventions for presentation, genre, documentation, and mechanics.

Evaluation Guidelines

Evaluating writing represents a most challenging task. Beginning with a carefully designed assignment can help, and so can clearly defined expectations. Below are some guidelines to help develop evaluation criteria.

Design: Make criteria explicit and match them with assignment goals.

  • Use the language of the course and the writing assignment's stated purpose to frame the criteria.
  • Use only a few trait areas, such as "Content, Reasoning, Organization, Style, and Correctness." See "Disciplinary-Based Writing Rubric" for sample categories/criteria.
  • Weight the criteria to indicate different course priorities as appropriate.
    (Unless the class is a writing course, content, reasoning, and organization typically should be weighted more than correctness.)

Process: Use criteria to assess the writing in process.

  • Whenever possible, use samples of student papers (ranging from successful to unsuccessful) to illustrate the criteria, asking students to discern them from the models.
  • Create criteria checklists for students to use in doing self-assessments.
  • Use these same criteria to give your response to the writing in process.
  • Have writers submit their self-assessment checklists and use them to give your feedback. (Use their language where possible and indicate places of disagreement with a contrasting mark.)

Product: Use criteria to assess the final writing product.

  • Have writers submit reflective self-assessments with their final products. These reflective commentaries might take the form of a cover memo, criteria checklist, or reflective essay attached to the final product. (Be sure they stick to the same criteria in doing these final self-assessments.)
  • When evaluating the final work, use the same criteria you have worked with in process.
  • Resist the temptation to write extensive comments on final work; instead, just write one brief comment overviewing the writing's greatest strength and need. 

Reader Response Cycles

One Format

Note: I use the term "reader response" rather than "peer review/peer evaluation" for at least two reasons: I want students to view themselves as writers, a perspective that implies a relationship with others as readers. Also, I use these cycles primarily as opportunities for writers to get response from colleagues about their work in progress, rather than to judge one another's final work (what the expression using "peer" suggest).

In groups of three:

CYCLE 1 (30-45 minutes, 10-15 minutes per draft)

  1. Writers read aloud while others listen and follow along on draft copy.
  2. Writers take notes while others give oral feedback to each draft in answer to the following questions:
    1. In a sentence or two, how would you sum up the writer's main claim in this draft?
    2. After reading this draft, what are the main unanswered questions remaining for you as a reader? How would getting these questions answered help you?
    3. What part of this draft is clearest/most effective/interesting for you as a reader? Why?
    4. What part of this draft could be strengthened? What specific suggestions can you offer for revising it?
    5. Writer's Question (Only ONE question will be addressed; check the main one.):
       How might I strengthen my focus/thesis/?
       What part(s) need more evidence? Why?
       How might I strengthen connections between ideas?
       How might I make my word choice more concise and precise?
       What main proofreading/format concerns do you see? How might I edit them?

CYCLE 2 (20-30 minutes)

Exchange drafts with a partner in your group; re-read with questions in mind and then write a detailed response memo giving full responses to each of the above four questions.

CYCLE 3 (5-10 minutes)

  • Read reader's responses and then:
    • Do a revising note:
      Based on information received from reader responses, how might you revise this draft? What parts would you keep? Change? Why?
    • Keep responses and revising note for revising possibilities.
    • Later, solicit more responses from more readers, including ones outside this class, such as in the Writing Center.

Note: These cycles can be done inside or outside of class time. If not enough time to do both oral response (cycle 1) and written response (cycle 2), choose one or the other. Students tend to prefer the oral route, but helps to insist that writers take notes so they will have a written record of the responses to use in revising.

~ Carmen Werder