Timed writes as a way to measure growth

This is the third installment of a series on Assessments in the Communicative and Comprehension based classroom. This post covers how powerful timed writes are, when used as formative assessments to measure student growth.

Last year, I implemented monthly timed writes for all my students. Timed writes are the best way to measure how quickly students access words in their heads to create a narrative. I don’t grade them but they are a wonderful formative assessment. As teachers, the only way we have to influence the number of words students have available in their heads and the ease with which they retrieve these words is  by providing a lot of comprehensible and compelling input.

You can read more about timed writes here.

Please note, when you look at a timed write, you are not looking at accuracy, you are counting how many comprehensible words students can produce in context. I like to call it “speaking on paper”. Novice will write words the way they sound so “parc” will be  “park”, “soudain” will be “sudden”, etc.

Let’s take a student who is not an outlier (neither a high nor a low achiever), let’s call her Tamara, and let’s take a look at her growth so far:

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8/23 Tamara writes about a girl who has a dog. She is 8 years old. The dog is a male and he is big. They both like the park.

(32 words in 5 minutes = 6.4 wpm)

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2/4 Tamara writes about a little dog. His name is Burger. Burger is pink and purple. He has three sisters and two brothers. His brothers and sisters do not like him because he is pink and purple. He is sad. One day he walks in the forest. Suddenly he sees a sister. He says “I don’t want

(61 words in 5 minutes = 12.2 wpm)

  • She has doubled her production from August to February!
  • She is writing an interesting story! I want to read more.
  • She has a sense of organization with clear transitions
  • She has both narration and dialog

I love watching my students grow and showing them their growth in order to boost their confidence!

6 comments

  1. Thanks so much, I have just discovered your blog! I introduced timed free writes with my 5th graders this fall, I have had them since 3rd grade. I have been wondering what to do with them in terms of feedback or corrections. I haven’t done anything yet other than praise them for their increase in output, but I think some of my students are writing nonsense…! What kinds of feedback to you provide for your students?
    Thanks!

    • Bonjour! I don’t provide feed-back on the timed writes, I collect them, count the number of words that are comprehensible to me, plot them in a Google Sheets charts, and show my students their progress.

    • However, if you notice some patterns of error in the timed writes, it will inform your teaching. For example if you notice that a lot of students can’t connect sentences yet (using and, or, because etc.), you will need to provide more language in context orally and in writing where sentences are connected.

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