When I wrote to the Arizona Department of Education to ask for permission to use these samples here, I received affirmative replies from two people, one of whom asked me to state that
The Student Guides are on the Web. Therefore, you may reference them in your project. I would request, however, that you credit the Arizona Department of Education when you refer to the items and that you indicate that permission to use the items does not indicate an endorsement of the KISS Approach by the Arizona Department of Education.I thank the Arizona DoE not only for the permission, but also for doing such a fine job of presenting samples of students' writing.
Many states have information about their standards on the web, but it is often simply meaningless mumbo jumbo that attempts to make the state look as if it is doing something. It is not unusual to find, for example, statements to the effect that third graders will use nouns and verbs correctly. But since every pre-school child already does this, such "standards" are meaningless. Arizona is one of the few states that I have been able to find that actually provides evaluated samples of students' writing.
These five samples provide some idea of the range of writing of third graders. The samples were evaluated on a scale of 6 to 1 for each of the six categories: "I & C" = "Ideas and Content"; "Org" = "Organization"; "V" = "Voice"; "W C" = "Word Choice"; "S F" = "Sentence Fluency; "C" = "Conventions." The comments from the guide for each sample are included in the notes for that sample. Unfortunately, there are no samples to reflect scores of five or six. (Click here for the complete scoring guide.)
Students' handwriting can be very difficult to decipher, so I really appreciate the Arizona DOE's transcribing the originals. I have made electronic copies of them for parents and teachers who want to use them to discuss spelling and punctuation errors with students. I have also provided scans of each sample so that people can check my transcriptions. One way of using these samples is to have students edit the samples for spelling and other errors. For exercises in syntactic analysis, edited versions may be preferable, so I have included these as well. Because these samples include very few advanced constructions, the analysis keys have all been put in a single document with the notes on each sample.
Perhaps the most important thing about the way that Arizona presents its samples is that they evaluate the same essay for each of the evaluation criteria. Pennsylvania, for example, provides sample essays for each of the evaluation areas, but does not evaluate each essay for all areas. (For more on this, click here.) The table above suggests that there is a close correlation among content, organization, sentence fluency, and conventions. To me, this suggests that grammar cannot be taught in isolation.
The question of what to teach third graders is complex. Obviously, most of these students could use some help with spelling and basic punctuation, but pushing third graders to use more subordinate clauses or verbals, may be not only a waste of time, but also harmful. Instead, that time might be better spent helping the students to develop a better sense of ideas, content, organization, and voice. On the other hand, it is troublesome that the first sample was faulted for a subordinate clause fragment ("end punctuation" under "Conventions"). How can we teach third graders to avoid this type of fragment when many college Freshmen are still making the same type of error? This problem still needs a lot more research, some of which, by the way, can be done by homeschooling parents. Can your third grade children master prepositional phrases, adjectives, adverbs, S/V/C patterns, and subordinate clauses all in third grade? (Discussion of this question is always welcome on the KISS List.)
The statistical analysis of these samples that has been added to "Cobweb Corner" sheds some light on this problem. The summary of those statistics clearly shows that the students who earned the highest evaluations across the board also wrote the longest average main clauses and used more subordinate clauses per main clause. Historically, it was this type of statistical analysis that prompted both the push for sentence combining exercises in primary school classes and the desire to teach "advanced" constructions to younger students. The Arizona presentation of samples, however, suggests that pushing the grammar into lower grades may not work because complexity of sentence structure may depend on the students' grasp of ideas, content, organization, voice, and vocabulary.
The following directions for students (from page nineteen of the Arizona Guide) provide an excellent writing exercise.