In just about every quarterly assessment and every state assessment, my students are asked to do a writing prompt where they advocate for something involving their own education. It sounds like a great idea. “Write a letter to your principal about whether or not you should have school uniforms” or “Write to the district office about whether students should be required to go to PE.”
But it’s a joke.
The very test itself is evidence that student voice doesn’t matter. False authenticity, where one advocates to a rubric rather than a true audience, becomes a bold reminder to students that they have no voice. Writing make-believe letters to people who will never read them teaches students a subtle lesson that advocacy is an act of make believe.
If you want to grade student writing, let them choose a topic. Give them creative writing prompts. Let them be fantastical or logical. Use the six traits and the little boxes and all of make up the score if you need to. Give them some freedom and see where it goes. Or don't give them writing assessments at all and simply assess their writing instead.
But please don’t teach them that pseudo-advocacy is what the adult world expects of them.
John Spencer is a teacher, author, keynote speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About, a new social publishing platform due out this Fall. He is passionate about helping students find their voice as they grow into stronger writers and deeper thinkers.