by Mark Overmeyer
Reviewed by Vicky Gilpin
High School English & Drama (IL)
Teacher Leaders Network
Mark Overmeyer’s book, What Student Writing Teaches Us, acts as a nice reminder that assessment does not always need grading and is not always summative. As readers of student work, teachers have a wondrous opportunity to use student artifacts for formative assessment to help students develop toward classroom goals, state and subject-area standards, and personal success. This slim volume makes good use of anecdotes from the author’s classroom observations. Overmeyer visited classes of varying ages and ability to explore ways writing could be used for the students’ benefit.
The work has several positive aspects. One benefit for teachers with hectic lives is the user-friendly format and readability. A person could read this in snippets before school or after doing other activities during a prep period and not lose the concepts developed. For many teachers, the emphasis on the importance of student writing as formative assessment is a necessary reminder: sometimes teachers feel like they and the children are floundering in a sea of constant assessment with no time for growth.
Another important theme Overmeyer stresses is student involvement in the development of their writing as a primary element of student growth (you'll hear their voices throughout the book). His examples of students as consumers and developers of checklists, rubrics, and projects echoes best practices. The author’s integration of his own experiences as a young and adult learner remind the reader not only of the importance of lifelong learning but also the necessity of remembering the student’s point of view.
Finally, the chapter on grades should be enough to spark several days’ worth of conversation in the faculty lounge or at faculty meetings. Overmeyer discusses “admiring” a pile of student work rather than “grading” it. An excellent aspect of the book involves demystifying the rubric. Overmeyer mentions his initial conversion to rubric usage and subsequent desire to use rubrics for everything. He presents ways to develop rubrics with students, how to use rubrics effectively, and how to decide if a rubric is the most appropriate tool for the situation.Overmeyer’s What Student Writing Teaches Us provides a fresh perspective on the purpose of student writing. His emphasis on starting with the goal in mind fits nicely with standards-aligned classrooms and other current educational approaches. Not only will the work benefit long-term professionals in grades K-8 who want a quick refresher on writing as formative assessment, it will be an excellent resource for pre-service teachers and recent graduates who are eager to get started “admiring” student papers.