In 2012, the writeforward project team set out to create an informal, low stakes formative writing assessment for use with adult literacy learners.

writeforward is based upon the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) Literacy and Essential Skills framework, adult learning principles, formative assessment  models and current writing theory about teaching adult literacy learners to write.

The objective of the writeforward project is to “improve the writing essential skill of adults by developing, producing and distributing a writing assessment resource for practitioners in literacy, basic education and workplace essential skills programs, thus allowing them (learners) to participate and contribute fully in the labour market, their communities and everyday life.” (HRSDC, 2012).

Our goal with the writeforward project is twofold:

  1. Increase practitioner knowledge, confidence and skills for
    effectively working with adults with low writing literacy.
  2. Support adult learners to build on and increase their knowledge,
    confidence and skills in writing.

To accomplish this our project team worked in consultation with a variety of Bow Valley College staff members, adult literacy and essential skills specialists, and practitioners in community and college programs. We reviewed and referenced other low literacy writing curriculum and assessment and essential skills resources.

Our intention is for this resource to be used in a variety of literacy and essential skills settings. We knew that some practitioners would have little background knowledge in assessing and supporting writing skill development and other practitioners would have considerable background knowledge. Finding the balance with respect to building a resource that was accessible, would meet our goals and objectives, and have value in a variety of settings was our challenge.

writeforward is aligned with Level 1 and Level 2 of the ESDC Literacy and Essential Skills framework. The complexity levels, contexts and categories of tasks are all referenced to this framework.

writeforward has further defined the skills in Level 1 and Level 2 by breaking them into smaller levels.

  • Level 1 has been sub-divided into three levels (1A, 1B, 1C)
  • Level 2 has been sub-divided into two levels (2A, 2B)

The ESDC levels of complexity measures the skills needed to perform a task and to address the differences in skill needs between occupations. The type of task refers to the reason for the writing task. Is it to inform, organize, remember/remind, describe, record/document or request. The task complexity rating is also influenced by the context (home, community, work). All exercises within each writeforward level are at the same level of writing complexity, but do require different skills and strategies depending on the task category and context of the exercise.

Formative assessment is a process rather than a product. It is a continuous task, rather than one left until the end of a session, and is embedded in all aspects of the teaching and learning process in writeforward. Formative assessment is the cornerstone of the collaborative conversation of writeforward. The information gathered from the writeforward writing exercises and rubrics shapes the conversation between the practitioner and the learner, and helps both to understand how the learner perceives the task. It provides an opportunity for the practitioner to give sensitive feedback to help the learner set forward goals to desired writing skills. An important part of the writeforward formative assessment process is the development of the learner’s metacognition around their writing skills, enabling the learner to take more active control over their learning process.

Much consideration has been given to the design and layout. Each Exercise has  both a writing context and a writing task, there is a prompt for rough draft or planning notes and (where applicable) a formal or informal template for final copy. The Rubric is designed to assess writing skills and strategies with prompts to consider prior learning, transferrable skills and the value of self-checking. As identified above, our goal is to support adult learners to build on and increase their knowledge, confidence and skills in writing.

The project included three piloting phases to test out the writeforward resource.

Phase 1: Provincial Pilots (April – June, 2015)

The writeforward provincial pilot included 15 literacy practitioners representing 11 organizations from across Alberta. The majority of these organizations work one-one with learners. The writeforward  team provided face-to-face training, a mid-point teleconference and a final review and evaluation.

Most practitioners reviewed the materials and used the exercises and rubrics with learners in their programs. Feedback from these practitioners was used to revise the resources. This pilot also reinforced the necessity of developing training videos that could accompany writeforward.

Bow Valley College (June 2015)

Practitioners using writeforward in a classroom setting was the focus of the Bow Valley College pilot. 9 Bow Valley College practitioners who teach writing in the Literacy and Essential Skills (Literacy and Academic Upgrading) area attended a face-to face training session.

They reviewed the materials and provided feedback on the exercises and rubrics. They integrated exercises and rubrics into their classrooms curriculum, in some instances adapting them as classroom activities. The evaluation of this pilot led to significant changes in the rubric design.

Phase 2: National Pilot ( Sept. through Nov. 2015)

For the national pilots we looked for a variety of organizations and a wide geographic distribution in order to ensure: the resource was appropriate to use in a variety of contexts including community programs, workplace programs and colleges; and the resource represented the everyday writing contexts and categories of learners across Canada.

The development of the 3 training videos meant that a large number of pilot sites could participate.

It is our intention that between the User Guide, the training videos and the Quick Starts we have provided practitioners will find this formative assessment resource accessible and easy to use.

The Advisory Committee

Throughout the entire process of development, project staff worked closely with an advisory team of adult learning experts from across Canada. Their input was sought at crucial junctures along the way so that their observations and expertise could inform overarching considerations of the project to ultimately ensure usability of the final resource in the field.

For more information about the development of writeforward please see the Appendix 1: More About Writing and writeforward, page 51 in the User Guide.