Justin reached for the rubric and looked at the goals. “You mean that I get one of these for each paper, and I can see exactly where I’m doing well and where I need to improve?” He seemed pleased at the idea. “It will help a lot to know what kind of standards I’m trying to meet and how far I have to go. It seems a lot easier than just trying to ‘make the paper more interesting!’”

They both studied the rubric for a few minutes, then Justin’s mom commented, “Okay, I think I can do this. Are there specific steps I need to follow when I evaluate a paper?”

Just as the rubric makes it easy to know what to look for in a paper, an orderly sequence of steps helps ensure that you don’t forget anything. It also helps the student to realize that the first paper he turns in is always a rough draft, subject to improvement. I divide the evaluation steps into two parts. The first evaluation is for the first draft, and the second evaluation is for the final, completed paper. You may occasionally want to repeat the first evaluation steps for more than one draft—for a college admissions essay, for example—but one evaluated draft is usually adequate.

Steps to a Constructive Evaluation

     •   Evaluate the first draft of a paper on content and organization only. There is no point in dealing with style or mechanics goals until the content and ideas have been fully developed.

     •   Read quickly through the paper. What is your overall impression?

     •   Are the ideas and content carefully considered, well supported, and thoughtfully organized, with textual support where appropriate?

     •   Are individual parts of the essay (thesis, supporting evidence, conclusion) or story (characters, plot, setting) included and properly functional?

     •   Look for clarity of expression in each idea or example. Unclear prose is a reflection of unclear thinking!

     •   Check basic assignment details—essay question answered, correct length, etc.

     •   For the final draft, evaluate all goals, beginning with content, then style, and finally, mechanics.

     •   Re-evaluate the paper, following the five steps of the first evaluation.

     •   Check style, mechanics, and presentation goals using the rubric to provide specific, targeted feedback for each goal.

As we finished our conversation, Justin and his mom seemed to feel much more confident. With their new understanding of the difference between an essay and a report, and their realization of the underlying purpose of communication in any writing assignment, they were both committed to the elimination of perfectly parsed piffle from future papers. With the help of carefully crafted essay prompts and constructive evaluations, Justin’s written communication skills would soon be equal to his verbal abilities.

If you apply these writing and evaluation principles in your homeschool, I think you’ll be amazed at the improvement in your students’ communication skills. When students understand exactly what is expected, and how they will be evaluated, they are much more likely to communicate successfully. And when you have the tools you need to measure progress, you’ll be able to give the kind of feedback that helps the student grow.

Writing evaluation is a communication tool that can build not only writing skills, but also relationships. Teaching and evaluating writing is a challenge, but with practice, you and your student can learn to communicate with ease and grace. You’ll never wade through perfectly parsed piffle again! 

Janice Campbell, author of Transcripts Made Easy, Get a Jump Start on College! and the forthcoming Excellence in Literature series, is the Director of the National Association of Independent Writing Evaluators (http://www.NAIWE.com). She homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college and has been writing and speaking in central Virginia since the late 1980s. Be sure to visit www.Everyday-Education.com for a free, printable version of her writing evaluation rubric, as well as more articles and resources.

This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more great homeschool help, download our FREE report—The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom! Click here to download: http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm