How Hop-Checks Keep the Writing Teacher Sane
Hop-Checks: Quick Formative Assessment Grading of Writing
I first starting calling these things labeled "hop-checks" as a joke. I was talking with my teaching buddy on our plan time, and she was telling me about her "class list" system that she uses during class. "So, you just hop around with a pen and pencil and check off what they are doing?" I asked. Her response was "Absolutely, I do." Little did I know that hop-checks would become not only common practice- but exemplary practice- in my writing classroom.
What is a Hop-Check?
Let me define a hop-check.
Hop-Check=quick assessment of writing in-class that does not require students to turn in the written assignment. A grade or participation value is given to the student, but the actual piece of paper does not touch the teacher's grading bag.
Anytime you have students writing in class, you have the opportunity to take that writing with you or not. This option seems like a simple choice, but not so much if you have been trained the same way I have. You also have the same choice in what you are doing while they are writing in class. Cue this image: See an English teacher eagerly peeking over his or her students' shoulders during an in-class quick write. This quick write has a purpose. Let it be in this instance to check for understanding about a text, or to poll students about their opinions to prepare for a classroom discussion. See it?
Now try to envision the same teacher with a...clipboard! This clipboard has a list of students' names in class and has pre-loaded categories to make sure that the check-off process is easy as can be. Better yet, the check-on process.
Check-on process: Making marks on a category of assignments on a classroom checklist that require the least amount of writing.
An example: I have assigned a quick write in class that I want to hop-check. I am equipped with my clipboard that has my class list attached and ready to go. I have a perfect fluid marking pen. During the actual quick write, I am walking around and am looking to see what students are doing and what they are writing. Some common quick write walking observations:
"Wow, _____still needs to work on turning the question around."
"Skip lines, please"
"Hmmm...why hasn't _____ started?"
"______is talking with their partner instead of getting started. Let me shoot them the teacher look."
"I see that _____ really isn't answering the question. But, I do like where _____is going with this."
"_____ and _____ have stopped short. Even after I have reminded them of the length of the assignment. They have done just enough."
While I am making these observations, I am only jotting down things of note. If the majority of the class is on-task, I am not writing down that most of the class is on-task. I mark the outliers. This makes sure that I am spending the least amount of time looking at my own clipboard, and the majority of the time looking at student work and talking with writers. Looking at outliers also helps with identifying gaps in understanding. You teach to the top, but the struggling writers identify where your instruction is unclear.
The Process Broken Down
You will need these items to prepare BEFORE class in order to make successful use of the hop-check process:
Class list with student names and individual category marking capabilities. I have a report that prints out a blank grid with student names in my online gradebook system, you may have to make yours.
Something to write with on the grid. Pick your poison. Choose your weapon.
Sticky notes. I always find these handy in case I make a general observation like, "They all cannot introduce citations correctly" as I am walking around. I then stick it in my notebook.
Actual clipboard. I like the ones with the compartment for storage in them. This allows me to keep all my checksheets from the marking period in one place so I can access them easily.
While students are working, I walk around and note their work on your clipboard. Again, note outliers only. If most of the students are doing the work on-task, do not write 10/10 over and over again. Mark the number of the outliers and move on. Example: You have 37 students in a class. 35 of the 37 are on-task and producing great writing. Leave their spots blank. Mark those two students who need the focused attention and have the varying grade only.
Enter it into the gradebook and feel good about not collecting some paper. Cue a little happy dance. But wait...what about the uncollected paper? Where does it go?
I have students put their papers in a writing portfolio. I like to get in the habit of them keeping all papers and classwork in this location. You may have a different location. I think hop-checks work wonders in interactive notebooks and in classroom composition books because they are housed in a safe place anyway. Now, I am not too good to put papers in the recycle bin; however, I want students to understand that keeping writing is a way different process than writing and throwing it away. I urge all students to keep their writing. I just don't want their writing to stay in my teacher bag.
Common Writing Teacher Mindsets to Overcome
There are fantastic and persuasive answers and responses to each of the following excuses on why hop-checks may not work in your classroom. These responses justify why you should be spending your time as a teacher in a better, faster, stronger (cue Kanye song) way. Let's answer these common misconceptions now. Shall we? I have said all of these at some point in my teaching career. Multiple times.
"I have to grade everything."
I still catch myself thinking this all of the time. I feel the pressure on me to grade everything. I think, "everything is worth a grade because then it matters." This is a negative mindset that will put any teacher in a paper trap. You don't have to grade everything. In fact, Kelly Gallagher says it best: "If your kids aren't reading way more, aren't writing way more, than any teacher can grade, I can guarantee you they're not [reading or] writing enough." I often will say this quotation to myself as a mantra. They are writing way more than I could ever humanly possibly grade.
"This is how they grow. They get feedback from me."
With 37 students in a single class, the ability to keep up with the level of writing feedback that you might expect of yourself is insane. The first shift in the writing teacher's mindset here can come from a reflective practitioner question: Why am I assigning this to my students? I would argue that I assign essays to show multi-step completed products. I know essays require feedback. However, does the in-class quick write that I give to see if they understand the steps on how to make a claim statement need to come home in my teacher bag? The answer is no. I know I am giving them feedback. My new writing teacher mantra is: Unless it requires extensive written feedback from me it does not enter into the teacher bag to come home.
"I have to see what they are doing. I have to hold them accountable."
Man, writing teachers want kids to be accountable. I still remember my 8th-grade beloved teacher who would notice down to the comma, period, and space, the correct formatting on my MLA practice works cited page. Later, I remember one of my high-school English teachers using a ruler to check the margin width on my research papers to make sure it wasn't larger than an inch. I have done both of these in my classroom. Why? I remember how it felt to be held accountable. I thrived on it. However, most kids don't per say. And education is now scary and anxiety-driven in ways that have changed even in the most recent years of teaching. I want to move more toward an emphasis on the process of writing. Not the driven perfectionism. While I am still a stickler on certain points (I can't handle when they use two different fonts on the same page), I also am realizing that I am spending more time on their ideas, voice, and organization of their work in my feedback.
"I need to see all of their writing to know where each of them are at."
The constant desire to have this conversation with a parent or guardian is always at the forefront of my mind. "How is ____ doing with their writing?" the guardian would ask. I would have ten answers down to their preposition usage on what they were capable of. "You know, ____ really has mastered using commas with appositives." Not realistic. This one is about control. As teachers, we often want to have control in all ways and have to forfeit control in some way on a daily basis. I can't control the fire alarm, but I can control what writing requires my specific, direct feedback and what writing assignments do not require this attention to detail.