Teachers of adult learners will want to know about the learners’ experiences of writing, their attitudes towards writing, and their writing strengths and needs. This section includes three approaches you could use, singly or in combination, to find out more about the learners. You can consider each approach and decide which would be most useful to use or adapt to meet your own information needs and the needs of the learners.
The three approaches are:
The first two approaches do not provide hard data to map against the progressions. They are used to help you find out the feelings and thoughts the learners have about writing.
The diagnostic process provides data that can be used to profile a learner against the progressions for writing. It has been developed primarily to help tutors make rapid decisions about whether or not learners would be able to cope with the demands of the texts they need to write as part of a course of study. Because it is evidence-based, it allows you to identify the learner’s strengths and needs.
These approaches are not intended to be rigorous, comprehensive assessments of writing – they have been developed by educators as practical guides, suitable for a variety of adult learning contexts.
Samples, models and exemplars
These terms are often used when we talk about assessing and teaching writing. In this context, these are the meanings used:
Sample: A sample of writing is a piece of writing of any quality done by a learner. A good quality sample can be used as a model or an exemplar.
Model: A model is a piece of writing often written by a tutor or the writers of course books to show what kind and standard of writing is expected of a learner.
Exemplar: An exemplar is a piece of writing done by a learner that has been through a moderation process (formally or informally) to verify that it is a good example of the kind or standard of work expected of learners at a specific level and/or for a specific purpose.
‘Attitude to writing’ survey
This survey can be used with individuals or small groups, and can be read aloud or used with a scribe to write the responses if necessary. The information provided in the survey may be quite specific and will be useful in helping you to identify the issues the learners themselves recognise and to begin to understand how the learners approach the aspects of writing described in the progressions. It is not ‘hard data’ though; it cannot be used to provide a baseline or to show precisely where a learner fits in relation to the learning progressions.
Ways to use the writing survey
Use the attitude survey in the way that works best for you and for the learners. For example, you could select one of these options:
Work with one learner at a time. Read the questions aloud and write down the answers. This will be the most suitable method for learners whose reading and/or writing skills would prevent them from completing a written survey by themselves.
Make copies of the survey and give the learners one each. The learners can complete the survey, then hand it in. Use this method if you are sure the learners will be confident reading the form and writing their responses unaided.
Work with small groups to discuss the questions and record the responses. This method will allow for a discussion that may help reluctant learners to respond. You will need to decide how to record responses and whether you want to identify individual responses or to construct a collated, group response.
If some questions are not relevant, or if you wish to add others, you can tailor the survey to meet particular needs and circumstances.
The ‘Attitude to writing’ survey form is included as Appendix B.1.
Writing portfolios or journals
In many learning situations, it may be appropriate for learners to maintain a record of their writing in a loose-leaf portfolio (such as a ring-binder) or in a journal (such as an exercise book). Portfolios and journals serve somewhat different purposes, but the central idea is that writing is accumulated over time, allowing for the writer and others to reflect on changes, review ideas and problems, and discuss earlier writing. For adult learners of writing, a portfolio can serve as a record of work and progress over time, as a store of ideas to return to and develop, and as a resource for you to share (with the writer’s permission) with others as models for further learning.
A journal is usually a more personal record of ideas as well as planned or drafted writing. In the journal, the writer can make notes and record questions for future reference, develop an idea in different ways, or write reflections on their own writing processes. You may wish to set specific purposes for journal entries, for example, asking the learners to keep notes about a particular aspect of writing or of a topic.
By examining these records with the progressions at hand, you can work with the learners to identify the next teaching and learning steps and discuss ways to achieve them. A sample of writing from the portfolio can also be used to carry out a more formal assessment of writing (see the following description of a diagnostic process).
Using a diagnostic process based on the progressions
This assessment tool has been prepared to fill an interim need (identified by tutors) to reflect and complement the learning progressions for writing. Although topics for writing are provided in the assessment tool that follows, it is preferable to use writing the learners could be expected to produce as part of their studies or in a real-life situation – this would provide greater authenticity for the assessment.
This diagnostic process is a general screening tool, not a formal assessment. By using typical course tasks for the assessment, you can find out if the learner will be able to cope with the writing demands of the course or if the learner is going to need some support. The assessment will indicate the specific areas (progressions) where support and/or instruction will be needed. If the assessment shows that the course task demands are too challenging for a learner, reassess using an easier or modified task. Where it is clear that the learner would be unable to complete the course with the support and instruction you have available, other options may need to be considered – literacy tutors can assist here.
To familiarise tutors with using Write to Communicate progressions to:
make decisions about learners’ strengths and needs, and to identify their next learning steps
recognise that learner profiles may be ‘spiky’ (strengths in some areas but not in others)
confirm impressions gained from other less-formalised methods such as the ‘Attitude to writing’ survey or informal observations.
The process described here is based on the assumptions that assessment should:
include information about the learners from the six progressions in the Write to Communicate strand
take no more than 10–15 minutes to administer, and be easy to administer and evaluate
be able to be used by vocational tutors
be able to be extended by literacy tutors.
The process of analysing a writing sample can offer tangible evidence of a writer’s development. Apart from giving a clear indication of how well the learner understands the topic, writing samples can give a clear indication of the learner’s:
understanding of the concept of text purpose and audience
understanding and mastery of the features of particular text types and of how they relate to the writing purpose
grasp of text structure, paragraph and sentence structure, vocabulary and language features
variety and depth of ideas
ability to use the surface features of writing (such as spelling and grammar) efficiently
ability to consider and reflect on possible choices (for example, vocabulary choices) and their consequences, and to refine writing as necessary
emotional and cultural engagement in the writing task.
One writing sample will not be enough to show all of a learner’s capabilities – it will show you where the learner is on the progressions for the sample of writing only. That is why it is important to choose the sample you will diagnose carefully – is it typical of the kind of writing the learner will have to do on the course? Think about the purpose and audience implied by the diagnostic task and the kind of writing the learner will have to produce (are these the same as those for the course?).
For more information about a learner’s writing capabilities, you will need to assess several samples of different kinds of writing. For this diagnostic process, you may wish to look over several samples at the same time and make a judgment based on how well the learner is doing overall.
You will be obtaining writing samples from learners and using the learning progressions (Write to Communicate) to analyse the writing samples. The samples can be obtained either one-on-one or with a group, as long as the writing is completed independently and the analysis is done with each learner individually. Some adult learners may find a group-administered task to be too similar to bad experiences they have had with tests. If you think this may be an issue, work with the learners oneon- one. Analysis will be most effective if the learner is engaged with and can understand the process, including making decisions about the next teaching and learning steps.
Obtaining writing samples
Discuss the purpose of this exercise with the learner/s, explaining that the two of you need to have one or more samples of writing you can analyse together. This will help in planning for the next teaching and learning steps.
Either use an existing piece of independent writing (the learner can select this) or use a writing starter to elicit a writing sample. If you choose to use a starter, select one of the starter examples or use these as models for designing your own starter. You may wish to offer a choice of starters and ask the learner/s to select the one they feel most comfortable writing about. You may feel that a learner will need the support of a template or writing frame. Reserve this option only for those learners who you know would not be able to produce writing without support.
When using a starter, give the learner/s at least two sheets of lined or plain A4 paper and tell them you want them to use the paper to prepare and write in response to the starter or prompt you’ll give. Giving two sheets acts as a prompt to the need to plan. Allow the learner/s to write on a computer if this is their usual writing tool, but be aware that this may not allow you to see evidence of planning or revising.
Give the starter by using the suggested script or by using one you have designed yourself. Aim for a consistent approach.
Tell the learner/s how much time they have to complete the writing, saying that you’d like them to use the time to prepare or plan, then to write, and then to look over their writing and make any changes before returning the pages to you. You can give a reminder that you expect the writing to be revised. Alternatively, you may wish to allow as much time as the learner/s needs to complete the writing.
If possible, do not offer help or respond to requests for assistance unless a learner is unable to write without help. If you give help, make a note of what you did and why. Ideally, the writing should be the learner’s unsupported work.
Collect the writing, making sure that each piece is named and dated.
Analysing the writing
Use the learning progressions and the ‘best guess’ chart and ‘Writing analysis template’ (Appendix B.4 and Appendix B.5) to analyse one or more writing samples for each learner. Do this with the learner if possible. This may be done over more than one session, depending on the time available.
Record the results.
Based on the analysis and the progressions, work with the learner to make decisions about the next steps for teaching and learning.
Spelling, handwriting and computer use
Spelling and handwriting are not as important as gaining a sense of how well the learner is able to respond to the task in terms of the appropriateness of their writing for its audience and purpose, the ideas the writing contains, and the organisation of the text. However, if the writing is really unreadable due to handwriting that cannot be deciphered or spelling that cannot be worked out, this should be noted as an urgent teaching and learning priority. Learners can be given other means of expressing their ideas (such as talking, role-playing, recording speech or drawing) while they build up their handwriting and spelling skills.
When learners use computers as a personal preference or to avoid issues with handwriting, you will need to be aware of the ways in which they plan and revise their work and to discuss these aspects of writing with them as they write. Likewise, you will need to be aware of how learners use the computer’s tools for spelling and grammar, bearing in mind that these tools also require a degree of expertise .