A Formative Assessment Strategy for Essays

It’s enough to drive you insane. You provide students with copious notes on their rough drafts and essays. They make some revisions, but ugh…it takes for-EV-er to work through them.   

I worked out a strategy that helped me formatively assess essays so that it not only saved me time, but it also put the “workload” on the student. Don’t sit there and mark up the whole paper! Have the student systematically work through revisions! 

The general method is to assess in terms of existence of a category (Is there a thesis?) to evaluating the quality of the writing in that category (How effective is the conclusion?)  Whatever issue you find that is at the “top” of the prioritization of categories is what the student will work on.
I’ve created this INTERACTIVE TOOL to help you train your brain to prioritize writing issues. Think of it like…an interactive flowchart. 

Yes, there will be a lot of back and forth between you and the student as you wait for him/her to submit a revision. Consider, though, that the review of each essay will most likely move from 15-30 minutes per essay to about 2 minutes per because you’re only identifying and focusing on the most pressing issue. The more you work with the strategy and get used to the prioritization of categories, the faster you’ll get. That “back and forth” is also they key to helping students write more effectively.

You’ll notice, once you’re working with it, that you don’t deal with any grammar, mechanics, or usage errors (lower-order concerns) until AFTER the student’s higher-order concerns are in-place. Here’s why:
Students tend to find errors when they go back to revise other things.

Of course, that’s not always the case, but generally speaking, students will “see” things once they’ve had a respite from working on the writing. Thus, you will have given them more opportunities to correct those issues on their own. It also takes a little bit of the stress away from writing, allowing them an opportunity to focus on their thinking before dealing with issues of correctness.

Let me know what you think of this FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT TOOL FOR ESSAYS and the strategy! I’d love your feedback! Feel free to share it as you wish—we’re all in this together!


  1. I really like this tool, but wish there was a version for students to use to evaluate their own work or a peer's - if the "no" slide had some instruction on it, this would be a great teaching tool!

  2. That's a great idea, Heather! I'll think about how I might do that...hmm.