Monday, June 1, 2009

Rubrics in the Creative Writing Classroom

I know what you're thinking. "He's been brainwashed by those education-types." Maybe. I know that whenever anyone mentions using rubrics to assess creative work it's in jest. However, I've thought a lot about it, and here's what I came up with. I want to clarify that I use these only in "regular" english class (not fiction) when someone expresses interest in writing a story. I think rubrics can work to address some of the issues beginning writers face. Thanks goes to Kurt Vonnegut, without your wisdom this rubric would really stink.

Postscript 2013: see updated rubric here!


Meagan said...

Is this a worksheet you're giving students? If so, I'd take another look at that table. The first three rows seem to be clear/good writing (left side) vs unclear/poor writing. The last two rows don't follow that pattern, which I think could be confusing for beginning writers, even though it seems fairly obvious which to aim for and which to avoid. Just a suggestion.

John said...

Yeah, I give these out. Thanks to Vonnegut for the directions, thanks to Meagan for the suggestion.

Decontee said...


Ok. I've been reading about rubrics for a month. Everything I read contradicts something I read somewhere else.

I like your rubric, though I have nothing smart or fancy to say about it. Its too bad I'm not teaching creative writing or I could just steal yours. Actually, it's a really good thing that I'm not teaching anything more advanced than I grammar is horrible. In case you haven't noticed.

Anyway, I'm having a really hard time here. I'm working to include reasoning and life-skills in the curriculum. The problem is that I'm not African and I don't know what needs to be included. I have a meeting on wednesday with a Liberian man who says he can help me with this.

I'm also having trouble figuring out how to track students' progress, on paper. I taught people here how to read last time, but I was sitting with them everyday and talking with them and seeing their progress. It wasn't formal. I need to be able to make graphs for each student's individual progress in the program. Do you have any suggestions for me? I am in over my head. In fact, I'm drowning. Maybe you have some websites or something you can send me?

It would help to have a samples of what other people are doing in adult literacy, but I didnt know what exactly I was doing until I got here and I have no resources. I've been reading a lot about adult literacy, but it's all western information. How do I do this when there is no money for the students to have their own books or even their own copies of the daily newspaper to read?

If you have the time...any resource you have that might be helpful to me....sample rubrics, copies of other peoples' curriculums, whatever. If you could e-mail it to me I'd really appreciate it.

I really enjoyed your last post. I don't know what it's like to work with HS students, but I know what it's like to work with a population that doesn't really understand what you are doing or how you are helping. Many of the people here don't want to participate in a program if they aren't seeing the result instantly, or if they aren't recieving something tangible at the end of each day. They've lived hand-to-mouth for so long they don't know how to live any other way. It's hard enough feeling so unqualified and pressured already....then to have the people Im trying to help act like they are doing me a favor by just talking to's really hard.

Anyway, I hope you're enjoying the summer months!

Decontee said...

I just found It seems to have some good resources. I will read over everything tonight. What do you think?

John said...

This looks like the kind of group that puts on Professional Development for schools. PD is something the state requires-some schools do it in house, but there are plenty of groups out there taking advantage... that said, my school hosted the folks at MAX Teaching a few years back. It was actually pretty good.

John Skarl said...

This was my response to Decontee on 6/8/09, just in case you're interested:

Most of the stuff I have that works was discovered via trial and error, and that's not even to say it will work for someone else just because it worked for me. This probably isn't what you need to hear, but it's true. I think the work you're doing learning about their culture, showing you're not a total authority per-say, is going to pay off in ways you won't be able to guess.

My cooperating teacher, when I student taught, said it's important (especially with 8th grade boys who don't like to show they care) to get into their hearts and minds through the "back door." I don't think I ever discovered where this back door was and how to access it; the point is she had her own access point, and I probably had mine- more akin to a pet flap- but I think she was talking about not wearing your heart on your sleeve. I'm still learning how to not wear my heart on my sleeve, how to give authentic praise, how to not get mad when something doesn't go my way.

As for educational strategies, if you're teaching them English vocabulary, it's essential that you link the new word to an old concept. This is called schemata in education talk, apperception in Buddha-speak. You can do this by creating links: playing a familiar song, showing a video illustrating the word, impromptu skits, or, the easiest way: showing a picture. There's no real cookie-cutter (worksheet) way to do this. It just takes a while to gather materials-I've included a sample powerpoint (SAT II) and the list of words (SAT list 2). I just googled the authors of the textbook (Vacca) I used in college to learn this technique... and randomly found something more interesting instead:

It's hard to know how proficient these folks are in English. I've found the most powerful way to create motivation is to find out what interests a student and make it the curriculum. For instance, if a kid likes rap music or something, find some to analyze; better yet, have him bring it in. I've attached the worksheet I use for this activity. You may not be able to show streamed video in class, but this is a great site:

Sometimes a simple discussion can be the most educational environment, but the hardest thing to sustain in a classroom (attached guidelines). A ground rule I've found to be helpful is: one conversation at a time. If this is a problem have them pass around an object. Only the person holding the object is allowed to speak.

I've included a couple generic worksheets to help people understand how to read an article (news, magazine) and respond.

This is something I just found...

As far as material goes, it sounds like you don't have a whole lot to go on. I still think I'd never be a reader if people (teachers, parents) didn't just read me good stories. I don't think I can underestimate the value of reading high interest material out loud to a group of language learners.

Well, I let myself think about this for a night before I responded, so I hope some of this can give you ideas.

If I think of anything else, I'll shoot you an e-mail.