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4 Ways to Get The Most Out of Your On-Demand Writing

Writing On-Demand 

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are many ways to bring power to your teaching. When I first began teaching writing, I was limiting myself by thinking that the on-demand would only help me create small groups for conferring. When I realized that the data gathered from the on-demand could be used in many ways to inform my teaching, I was able to start elevating my student’s writing skills. 

An on-demand is an assessment given to students at the beginning (pre-assessment) and end of a unit (post-assessment) to see what students know and can do for a particular genre (narrative, informational, opinion). Before the unit, an on-demand helps adjust your plans and tailor small groups and one-on-one work. At the end of the unit, an on-demand helps celebrate the growth and progress of students. Data gathered from an on-demand also allows you to consider skills or strategies you’ll need to teach when returning to a particular genre. It is important to remember that the students do the writing for on-demand. Teachers should not be teaching during this time. 

Sample On-Demand Prompts by Genre

If you use the units of study, you can find the demands in The Writing Pathways book. Here are some examples: 




If you don’t use the units of study, you can give students an open-ended prompt such as, “Think of a true story that happened to you. Write and draw to show who was there, where you were, and what you were doing. Don’t forget to share how you felt. Remember to think, plan, write, revise, and edit your writing.” 

When Should We Give an On-Demand? 

Students complete the pre-on-demand after students have been through a week of immersion. The pre-on-demand is an opportunity for you to collect data on what your students know for that particular genre, such as who can generate ideas, who knows how to plan their writing, and which students edit and revise their writing. It can also serve to collect data such as writing volume, such as who writes a few sentences versus who writes full paragraphs, and mechanics, such as who is using capital letters and punctuation in their writing. It will also help you see writing behaviors, such as which students struggle to get started and which ones start easily. 

EXPERT TIP: When giving the pre/post-on-demand, you can walk around the room with a conferencing sheet jotting down notes on things you notice.

Students complete the post-on-demand after the celebration and publishing party. The post-on-demand helps you collect data after students have finished a unit and have gone through each stage of the writing process. This is an opportunity to show what they’ve learned after all the instruction for that particular unit. Typically students will do this after they’ve published their writing piece and have celebrated all of the work they’ve done for the unit. Make sure not to intervene or try to teach. 

Four Ways to Maximize Your On-Demand Writing

The following are four ways to maximize your on-demand writing:

1. Track Student Growth

An on-demand will allow you, parents, and administrators to see how much growth a student made based on where they started at the beginning of the unit and what they can do by the end of the unit. You can collect data based on structure, development, language conventions, and behaviors. 

Structure: Includes leads, endings, and transitions. For primary grades, this might look like students telling their stories across the pages (beginning, middle, end). For upper grades, this can look like students writing introductions and endings. 

Development: Includes elaboration and craft. For primary grades, this might look like students adding details in pictures and words. For upper grades, this can look like adding action, dialogue, or feelings. 

Language Conventions: Includes spelling and punctuation. For primary grades, this might look like students adding spaces between words and capital letters. For upper grades, this includes students checking their spelling and punctuation. 

Behaviors: Includes students who struggle to get started and have trouble with the volume of writing. For primary and upper grades, this looks like students getting started right away versus students taking a while to start writing and students who are writing multiple sentences or paragraphs versus students who write one or two sentences. 

By taking the time to analyze the data, you can get a complete overview of where students started and where they’re by the end of the unit. This information can also be helpful to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences and with administrators.

2. Adjust Your Whole Class Teaching

Look through your student’s writing to find trends and patterns. You can start by looking for strengths (what students are doing well) and then finding areas of need (what students are struggling with). You can then use that information to create mini-lessons targeted around areas of need. For example, if you look through the pieces and see that over 50% of students are struggling with elaboration, you can create mini-lessons around elaboration strategies. You can teach them how to go back and add action words, dialogue, or character feelings. If you have a unit plan, this information can inform what lessons you remove and add in.

3. Set Goals for Students

It’s important that students also know what they’re working on to improve their writing. They can use student-friendly checklists to set goals for themselves. Students then become involved in their progress and can reflect on their writing. For example, if a student is working on their language conventions, it’s important that they know exactly what they’re looking for to improve their writing. You might set a goal to go back and make sure the beginning of each sentence is capitalized or that they have a period at the end of each sentence. If you’re using the units of study, the online resources have student-friendly checklists that students can use alongside their writing to set goals for themselves. You can also create your own checklist. 

EXPERT TIP: For primary grades, you can give students options of possible goals (keep it simple with 3-5 options). You can create a tool in their folder where they keep track of these or a bulletin board where they’re displayed. Students can go back to see how they’ve improved. 

4. Use On-Demand Data to Differentiate

You can use the data you collect to help determine small group work for the unit. For example, suppose you have a group of students with a lot of action in their writing but not enough dialogue. In that case, you can plan a small group around teaching students how to revise their writing by including dialogue. You can also use the data to help guide your one-on-one conferences. You’ll go into a conference knowing some areas where a particular student needs help. You can create a series of strategy lessons (in one focus area, such as elaboration/focus/conventions) you can work on with students throughout a unit. You can meet with students to continue to support them or decide if they’re ready to do the work independently. 

If you want to read more on on-demand assessments, you can read Lucy Calkins’ Writing Pathways.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with another educator. 

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