We help kids learn to speak real Spanish. For life.™

by Erica Fischer on Sep 10, 2014

How to Help Students Gain Proficiency in Writing

Welcome back to #langchat! Last week, a host of new and familiar faces tuned in to discuss ways to help students develop written proficiency. Langchatters began by defining written proficiency, discussed the extent to which instructors should correct written output, brainstormed ways to provide feedback, and shared ways to help students elaborate more in their writing.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the conversation last week. We extend a special thank you to Kris (@KrisClimer) and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) for moderating another action packed hour of #langchat.

Defining Written Proficiency

@KrisClimer started off the conversation by asking fellow Langchatters to share their definition of proficiency: “Well #langchat – what does ‘written proficiency’ mean to you?” The vast majority of participants equated proficiency with successful communication and emphasized that perfection was not a requirement. @Sralandes said, “[Written] proficiency means others can understand what you are trying to say. I think at lower levels it doesn’t have to be perfect.” @cmaddoxjr pointed out that any form of writing could be used to demonstrate proficiency, not just essays. @CoLeeSensei agreed that “‘any form’ is key,” and other Langchatters voiced support of this point. @cadamsf1 said, “I agree it can be a note, an email, correspondence.” @axamcarnes highlighted that “we put SO much emphasis on essays and neglect the primary ways that [students] communicate.” @Sralandes suggested using textual forms that students are familiar with: “[I] think about the ways kids communicate: text, kick, twitter.” Overall, @cmaddoxjr insisted on the importance of celebrating all successful attempts at communication: “We have to start small. Communicating through a sentence is success. Paragraph is success. Short story is success.”

How Much to Correct

@PattyNiebauer said, “[Written] proficiency [lets] me [know that students] have the idea, even if [grammar] is not always perfect.” In light of this comment, @KrisClimer asked Langchatters, “What level of correction [is appropriate] with writing?” Preferred approaches varied among instructors. @MmeFarab takes student level into consideration and places emphasis on communication of ideas early on: “With novices, I sometimes correct spelling when I can barely decipher [their writing, but,] if the meaning gets across, [I] usually don’t.” @KrisClimer offers lots of corrections but does not grade students down for every mistake: “I tend to correct lots, but evaluate based on what [students] CAN DO.” Other instructors make a distinction between corrections and suggestions of ways to improve writing. For example, @cmaddoxjr said, “I think of [a distinction between what to] correct [or] suggest. Grammar should be corrected. [Vocabulary] could be suggested.”

How to Provide Feedback

Langchatters shared their thoughts on how to provide students with feedback on their writing. They touched on implementation of classroom feedback codes and rubrics, use of Google to provide students with comments, collective review of common difficulties, and one-on-one meetings to check in with students.

  • Develop classroom codes and rubrics: Many instructors create a feedback code to highlight student difficulties regarding formal aspects of writing (e.g. spelling, word choice, grammar, etc.) @CoLeeSensei likes to provide color-coded feedback, with a particular color corresponding to a certain type of error. (Information on her coding system can be found here:. Additionally, she shared access to a wealth of ready-made rubrics that can be used for a variety of written activities:
  • Use Google to provide comments: Multiple instructors cited Google as a useful resource for providing feedback on written work. @carmenscoggins said, “I have my students write in [Google Docs]. It’s easy for me to highlight areas of concern [and] they often correct their own errors.” @bleidolf suggested using Kaizena within Google Docs to embed recorded spoken comments on student work. @MmeCarbonneau mentioned the benefit of Google Classroom for written proficiency: “Easy turn in [and] easy return = MORE FEEDBACK.”
  • Spot common errors collectively: Several Langchatters discussed the value of discovering and correcting common errors as a class. @cforchini said, “I love creating a common list of errors, posting [them], then having the class correct [them].” @tiesamgraf pointed out that this practice has benefits for instructors and students alike: “Looking for error patterns helps me (and them) more.” Rather than create a list of errors from memory, @cocamanar suggests analyzing student work: “Sometimes I take samples from each student’s work and put them into [an] anonymous editing exercise. [This shows] real errors, [and there’s] more ownership.” @CoLeeSensei presents this activity as a game in her classroom: “I’ve done this too – they love to ‘spot the error’! We make it a ‘challenge game’.”
  • Check in with individual students:
    Langchatters communicated the importance of focusing on areas of improvement for individual students and meeting one-on-one with members of the class. @tiesamgraf said, “I stopped using codes and try to focus on one or two areas for each student with specific feedback – instead of [pointing out] many little ones.” @bleidolf67 also underscored the importance of face-to-face reflections on student progress: “I agree- [Let’s] get away from codes and have honest, [face-to-face conversations] with [students] on how they can improve.” Participants were well aware of the difficulty of scheduling individual meetings. As @RLavrencic noted, “Finding time for conferencing with 30 [students] is hard. 1 [minute per student means] 30 minutes [of class time] lost.” @ProfeCochran agreed but encouraged individual meetings, even if only infrequently: “It (meeting [face-to-face with] students) is hard, but it is crucial, [at a] minimum 1 [time per] quarter. Other [students] must be busy on other ‘work’ [in the meantime].” As an alternative to in-person feedback, @KrisClimer suggested leaving recorded feedback for students [as previously mentioned with tools like Kaizena]: “We’ve started using Ebackpack. I can give recorded feedback and evaluation rather than markup.” @RLavrencic agreed that this saves instructors time: “I’ve been thinking about recording feedback in audio clips into [a] Student Dropbox folder. [This saves] time on writing,” and @MmeCarbonneau shared resources for leaving audio feedback:

Ways to Help Students Elaborate in Writing

@MmeFarab prompted Langchatters to share their favorite strategies for helping students elaborate more in their writing. @SenoritaBason touched on the importance of encouraging written output without the pressure of grades: “We also provide writing opportunities where the work is not graded, especially for younger students. Expression is more important.” In order to guide students through the writing process, @jas347 suggested breaking writing tasks into manageable steps: “[Students] forget how much they know and get overwhelmed. [Break assignments] down into parts [and] then help them assemble [texts] with sentence structure.” @MadameSigman provides her students with key words to get them started: “I give [students] sentence starters and key words to link sentences and begin new [paragraphs].” @RLavrencic shared an idea for writing practice as a collective activity: “For my [students], we spend 5 [minutes] brainstorming [vocabulary] useful for the piece of writing. Then [we] develop a plan [and] organize ideas.” @RLavrencic then has students compose a collective draft without worrying about grammatical errors. Revision and correction are also performed collectively, and improvements are discussed.


Overall, Langchatters stressed the value of encouraging written communication without focusing too much on mistakes. In the words of @profe104, “[Not] every mistake matters. Focus on communication.” There are a variety of ways to provide students with feedback and to help them elaborate more in their writing. @axamcarnes urged instructors not to attempt too much at once: “Pick a couple areas of focus at the time.” Finally, @MmeFarab summarized her takeaway from last week’s #langchat in the following way: “Purposeful! Purposeful writing, purposeful feedback, purposeful elaboration (no ‘fluff’ words)!”

Thank you!

Thank you again to Kris (@KrisClimer) and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) for moderating another engaging #langchat! Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

@CoLeeSensei reminded participants that, if you “[have] a topic you’re burning to discuss,” send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Don’t forget! There’s still time to order a #langchat T-shirt! Orders close on September 21! Get one before they’re gone!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

One comment

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Click I accept to consent. More info: Privacy Policy