Ever wonder how your child’s teacher decides on the grade he gets in writing?

All a teacher has to do is compare your child’s writing work to examples of kids’ writing, called exemplars, in the Ontario Elementary School Curriculum. The ability levels in the curriculum are divided into four categories, Levels 1 through 4, which are associated with the grades D through A+ (D for Level 1, C for Level 2, B for Level 3 and A+ for Level 4).

Your child gets the grade associated with whichever level his or her work is most like.

Consultant teachers with specialties in elementary writing helped the Ministry of Education come up with the exemplars, says David Booth, a literacy expert and professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Booth is also Chair of Literacy at Nipissing University in North Bay.

“They sit down and look at what most kids can do at a certain level and base them on that,” he says. “It’s what kids, with good teaching, can do.”

Have a look at Levels 1 through 4 (D through A+) for your child’s grade.

Exemplars help teachers and students identify quality writing, says Larry Swartz, also from OISE. They offer specific criteria for assessing writing, and provide a method to demonstrate and model good writing. “Exemplars are mostly to help teachers assess writing and to guide students from one level of reading to another,” Swartz says.

Toronto District School Board literacy expert James Coulter says the exemplars give teachers something to compare a student’s work to, besides the other students in the class.

“Teachers can even have students complete the same task and use the samples and rubrics to assess their students in a non-biased way that is consistent across the province,” he says. “It's all about consistency of assessment across the province -- a tall order when you consider the diversity of Ontario's student population.”

When assessing student writing, teachers look for ideas and topic development, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions (spelling, grammar, punctuation).

It’s important to remember, however, that these exemplars are examples of what the children were able to do at the end of a particular school year, Coulter says.

Booth says parents should share the exemplars with kids who are below the level expected of their stage of development. “Nothing is hidden in this world,” he says. “Absolutely show it to them. You should look at it together and then say, ‘what can we do to get you to the next level?’”

Help the child identify the differences between his or her level of writing and what is expected of children in their grade. “They are teaching tools,” Booth says. “Not weapons. I am so afraid some kids are going to think of them as weapons. They are not. They are tools. They are just to assess the kid so we can help him to grow.”

While many parents may think it’s the neatness of the handwriting that the teachers are evaluating, that is actually the last thing teachers care about, Booth says.

There are many things parents can do to help foster their child’s ability to write well, he says. “The biggest thing is to write,” he says. “And it’s important to write about what they like. You’ve got to write about what you care about.”

Keeping a journal is a great way to foster kids’ writing ability, he says.

Booth also recommends getting boys in particular writing on computers as early as absolutely possible. “There are book programs online that they can do where they can actually write and build a book of their own,” he says. “I want boys on the computer as soon as you can.

Helping children make their sentences longer, showing them not to print through the lines, telling them ‘this is how our work should look’ and separating the idea part from the actual writing are some of the many things parents and teachers can work on with kids, he says.

Swartz advises parents to compare their child’s writing to their own. “What they do in September will be different than what they do in June for a number of reasons,” he says. “Every child will grow in his or her writing because of developmental stages, exemplars, direct instruction, and authentic writing purposes  (journaling).”


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