Fundamentals of grammar have been reduced over the years and what we deem good writing probably fluctuates, but don’t be so quick to blame the holistic rubric. With regard to assessing writing in lower-elementary, the holistic scoring method finishes in front and encourages more thoughtful writing from such young minds.
During my kindergarten practicum experience, the cooperating teacher I worked with enlightened me to a phenomenal writer’s workshop approach that allowed five-year olds to let their imaginations flow onto lined-paper. Her students, who previously had very little acclimations to the writing process, were more in touch with how to tell a story than I was in college composition. The reason—holistic scoring (well, partially). Students may be asked to write about a favorite dessert (lame topics aside); they are allotted time to brainstorm, write a few lines, and draw pictures that link actual imagery to their words. The freeing aspect for them is that they can leave the conventions of an alphabet they are just wrapping their heads around behind. Kindergarteners and first-graders are full of things to say, but their writing is often limited—the fear of misspelling a word or making a punctuational error takes precedence.
The teacher uses a six-point scale similar to that discussed in the Wolcott text and focuses on the numerous elements of writing as a whole and how coherently the child is able to convey an idea. Herein lies my next point of contention with holistic opponents—why do critics insist there is no constructive feedback? At least in this circumstance, the teacher was able to discuss strengths and weaknesses with the students, in order to help them make their future writing assignments greater successes. Obviously, at this level, the suggestions involved incorporating words from the word wall, adding more detail, and stating a character’s name. But, writing, at any age, is an on-going process, is it not? And, this parallels the belief that “holistic scoring can serve as an important way of enabling students to improve their self-assessment skills by understanding the criteria against which their work is evaluated” (Wolcott, 87).
A teacher who uses an analytic rubric, noting every alphabetical miscue or omission, is actually stifling any creative hope her students may have. I worked with a little girl who couldn’t spell her own name; but, when she felt unrestrained to try inventive spelling, she came up with the richest vocabulary (mystery, glowing, and toxic were some of her favorites). Scoring holistically in the lower grades seems so much more logical to me, because we’re letting students test out writing for themselves without immediately attacking what they don’t know. We need to, first, draw vision and innovation out of children—applying the polish should follow sequentially. My cooperating teacher typically adjusted misspelled words, inserted capitals and commas, but never allowed mechanical skills to dictate whether or not a child’s authentic ideas were worth writing about. I’d be fairly content with a five year old who wished to write about the universe, but left out the r.