Call for Honesty: The Writing Continuum

Bonnie Campbell-Hill’s Writing Continuum is a fantastic resource for  informing teaching and learning. When used on a regular basis it is extremely powerful. It is a part of NISTs language assessment methods.

I would like to achieve two things with this posting:

  1. Get a sense of who is using the Writing Continuum on a regular basis in their classroom.
  2. Encourage all of us to start being honest about what we are doing and not doing in our teaching.

So, I will start. I have been using the Writing Continuum for four years prior to coming to NIST… but have not used it since I have been teaching here as I have been caught up in doing other things.

What about you?

Are you using the Writing Continuum?  If so, how do you use it? If not, why is that?

Conceptual understandings from IB Language Arts Scope and Sequence Document

Image from hatta affendy on Flickr


  1. Chad

    The kids and I use the continuum to guide and focus us for reading and writing. Every 6 weeks (once per unit is my time of reference) we review our 2 reading and 2 writing targets. Each student will need to show evidence of how they have applied and grown in their learning and understanding of their targets. They decide whether they hit or missed their target. The students will move themselves (when the time is right) along the continuum. I always can do more with it. This has made me think about how I can show them that they can be across other phases and not stuck in the one phase. Seems obvious I know. I want to give them a few photos with arrows and have them pin point where they are across the full continuum. They have such varied skills and competency levels in different areas of the continuum. While we are being honest, I use to always use an A3 book of both continuums for each kid to write notes. It has come down to time. I simply can’t get to everything. I do have these A3 books; however, I get bogged down with other things. While I use the continuum to enhance student learning, I can always be and get better. Chad

    • Mr. Sam

      I have “borrowed” your wall display idea and will use it in conjunction with a Continuum Book. The book will be more detailed as students will have indicators in more than one section of the continuum. The wall display will have their photo in the “dominant” section of the continuum – if most of the students’ indicators are in the “Proficient” section in the book, therefore, their photo will be in the “Proficient” section on the wall.

  2. Kate Lynch

    I use the writing and reading continuum to inform myself for report writing (and more of course, but the report writing gives me the motivation). I print up the preconventional indicators in a table and put the children’s names in columns and then mark when I see evidence of each indicator and after 3 tally’s I highlight that indicator to show consistency. If I knew of a way to insert a photo into a reply here I would, but I think you can understand. All the EY team have these docs as a tool to use if they wish and EY2 can use the emerging as well (and EY1 of course if we have any students who are moving into the next phase of the continuum). Later this information collected on a one page document is transfered to students individual continuums. If you are advocating for ongoing use of these, which format would you like us to use, for consistency? I find the hardcopies most helpful and rather that than online data bases. Last year the EY team only did hard copies at the end of the year as we didn’t want to spend lots of time putting them into IES when we knew there was a change to Veracross on the horizon.

    • Mr. Sam

      I like the sound of your approach – maybe we can do a blog posting about it together so that you can put photos on?

      I prefer hard copies as well as you can write anecdotal notes on them and generally just use them in a more on-going and ad-hoc way.

      We are talking about the best way to pass the information on to the next teachers, though, so any ideas about that are most welcome!

  3. Jill Bellamy

    I use the continuums to inform my teaching for individualised and group instruction as well as ideas for inquiries into how language works and its purpose. I have checklists for the first four stages and mark these as I notice the students independently displaying certain behaviours, attitudes and skills during conferencing, guided reading sessions or any other time I see things worth noting. I also write comments on these which I use when writing reports and discussing student work with others. Three times a year I transfer this information to the continuums. I find this easier to manage and more informative than marking the continuums all the time.

    The students all have the self assessment sheets that Bonnie Campbell Hill has as support materials for the continuums to trach their own development. At first I support them in marking these and understanding what the indicators mean but the students soon become very empowered with these and use them to set realistic goals. Instead of saying “I want to get better at writing,” they might say “I need to use beginning and end sounds when I spell words I don’t know.”

    I prefer the paper copies to the digital version. I think it is easier to see the development when you have all the stages next to each other rather than under each other plus I just have to open a folder and it’s all there.

    • Mr. Sam

      This is great stuff, thanks Jill!

      I love the fact that Year 1 students are so empowered by the continuum and that they are able to engage with the wording of the self-evaulation version. Giving the students the tools they need in order to be specific about their learning is invaluable. Even in Year 6, students still say “I need to improve my writing” but can only really do so once they know what their next steps are. And, the next steps are different for almost every student!!!

      I’m also a big fan of paper as it suits my personality. If it’s on paper I will use it and scribble on it and highlight it etc… If it’s on the computer, I am less likely to use it.

      But, how do we ensure that the continuum data is passed on each year?

  4. Jennifer

    Many of the teachers, like Jill and Kate, see the value of continuums in informing their teaching and, to a lesser extent as a self-assessment and goal setting strategy for their students. With these teachers there is never any problems in handing on the info…they are invested and are doing it anyway! I think for staff overall, helping each other really see the value of continuums is important…the continuums need to be constantly revisited, clarified and time spent collaboratively moderating samples…If we’re going to pass them on to inform the next teacher we need to share the same understandings of indicators.
    Putting the indicators on-line is very public in some ways so again we have to be really consistent in our judgements if going this route. Most teachers previously used the paper as well in that they transferred at certain points of the year to IES. At that stage this entry was a requirement that came from Admin. When entry on IES was a requirement I must say, many more paper copies were passed on at the end of the year!

    • Mr. Sam

      You make an important point here, Jen, the continuums really do need to be revisited regularly. That is certainly something we can do in creative ways – it’s all about boosting awareness of the continuums themselves and highlighting how user-friendly and child-centred they are.

  5. Colleen

    Like Jill (I learned from her) I use both the reading and writing continuums regularly to assess student learning, inform practice (knowing the next step), set goals with students and for reporting to parents. I too use the mentioned checklist to record my observations during guided reading sessions and Writer’s Workshop. I then transfer this information onto the continuums throughout the year. I think the continuums are a fantastic tool for guiding my teaching, it helps me to see where gaps are in my teaching – when certain indicators are left empty I know these are areas in my teaching I need to address. As a grade level we have also used the writing continuums to guide the moderation of writing samples across the grade.

    • Mr. Sam

      Yes, so useful not only for assessment of individuals students, but also as a more general indicator of language areas we still should address with our students.

      Have you ever found that anything is missing from the continuums? Are there important areas of reading and writing development that are not mentioned?

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