Progress Monitoring Writing with ELLs

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Teaching writing is hard. Teaching writing to ELLs is extra hard. My students come to me with a million different needs, and one of their major academic gaps is always in writing. Writing is what keeps them in the program and what continues to be a struggle for them in their content area classes after they have exited. This is especially true of ELLs in secondary where the demands for academic writing are very high and many students anticipate going to college where, if their writing can seriously hold them back.

So, writing is hard. It is also a process that requires a lot of time, effort, and revision. It’s difficult to communicate these facts about writing to kids. I find my ELLs come with two different mindsets regarding writing. One, they hate it, don’t want to do it, and are very resistant to even try, or two, they know they need to improve and they become obsessed with the idea of practicing grammar as a way to fix all their writing issues. Neither of these mindsets is particularly helpful for their overall writing development. Refusing to write means kids writing will not improve because the best way to become a better writer is….to write. Recent research suggests that teaching grammar out of context does not help better student writing outcomes.

It’s always a tricky balance between giving some direct, explicit instruction in grammar, giving kids a chance to actually spend a good amount of time writing in class, coming up with interesting things that the reluctant writer’s actually want to write about and then teaching about the idea of revising and editing. That’s usually where I get the most pushback from my ELLs. Once the writing is done they don’t want to look at it again.

I have developed a pretty good arsenal of writing tools for ELLs over the years. I’m going to dig into each one here.

Writing Progress Monitoring

I try to do an assessment 2-3 times a year on my ELLs writing abilities. I prefer to assess kids on the same type of writing each time I progress monitor (e.g. narrative, expository) it is easier to look for growth that way and also easier to have kids self-assess their own growth. I score these pieces using the same rubric each time. I meet with the kids afterward and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Our school developed this rubric. I’m not in love with it, but I’m rarely in love with any writing rubric so this one works well enough.

holistic writing rubric

Link to this editable rubric in google drive–Holistic Writing Rubric

You could also use a rubric like this one from 6 Traits Plus One. I have a hard time with this program with ELLs because the rubrics are use pretty sophisticated language. It takes a LOOONNNGG time to go through the categories with the kids and get them to understand what each one is. It’s not worth the time for me, but this is a well-regarded writing program.

You could also use the WIDA ACCCESS writing rubrics. That’s the rubric that the state will use to judge their writing so that would be a good piece of consistency for scoring and progress monitoring. My issue with that rubric is that is generally a bit vague and very subjective. It doesn’t give me a good handle on what my kids are actually able to do with their writing.

I keep a portfolio of the students writing samples over the course of the year. This year, I will keep that portfolio digitally, although I prefer to have them do hand-written pieces because I think the act of physically writing is important and valuable. At the end of the year we have one-on-one conferences where we go back and look at the progress they made in writing over the course of the year using the rubrics. 

Increasing Writing Fluency:

For daily practice I try to use a writer’s notebook as suggested in both of Kelly Gallagher’s books:

Here’s a Google slideshow of poems I have used for quickwrites to get kids writing every day. Many of these were suggested by Penny Kittle who suggests using poems for microbursts of writing.

Using Poems to write off:

Her website and resources are amazing. However, these need to be carefully curated for ELLs proficiency level because many will contain too much language and/or figurative language for lower level ELLs to comprehend and digest.

Instead of using poems as you would with native English speakers- merely providing them with the poem and then asking them to write– I go over the poem with the ELLs and explain language, draw parts of the poems and ask questions. I usually also make a list of key terms in a word splash format on the whiteboard (or whatever you are using, shared slide or something) for them to reference when they are writing.

For the lowest level ELL– level 1s:

I ask them to respond to things in their native language. I also allow them the use of translation while we are going over things.

I’m working on putting together a bunch of quick writes for daily use, specifically for ELLs, that will be leveled. I’ll post that link here when it is available.

I also highly recommend joining the Facebook group for 180 Days. The teachers there are very smart and share a TON of great resources. 

Other Writing Resources:

At some point, I hope to be able to detail when and how I use or have used all of these resources with teaching writing to ELLs, for now this is just a quick snapshot of materials that have worked for me in the past:


Betty Azar Grammar website

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