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Anchor Papers: A Journey Toward Better Student Papers

Posted by Emily Guthrie on Sep 16, 2014 7:35:07 AM

 I've recently had an ah-ha moment about teaching writing at all levels using anchor papers.  Anchor papers are basically a set of papers that each represent the characteristics of a particular grade range. For example, given a writing prompt about Native American mythology, I could have a set of anchor papers in which 1-2 papers are solid As, 1-2 papers are solid Bs, 1-2 papers are solid Cs, 1-2 papers are solid Ds, and 1-2 papers are Fs.  When we are finished with our literature unit on Native American mythology, I can have students write on the prompt with a clear rubric.  When the papers are complete, I can give students the unmarked anchor papers to categorize and grade based on the rubric.  After we have discussed which papers received which grades and for what reasons, students can self-assess their own papers with clarity. Then I could use a similar rubric with the next paper on Puritan literature, allowing students to self-assess without anchor papers before they turn it in for my grading.

Using Anchor Papers to Help Students Become Better Writers
Anchor paper strategies are common in the test prep world, but I think they can be just as helpful in our regular curriculum.  I teach  juniors, so at the beginning of the year, we do the Score Write activity from college board and I have seen a marked improvement in their SAT essay style writing as a result of the anchor paper technique.  Preparing anchor papers for ourselves can be a daunting task, but I think the long-term results will be well worth it.  Below I am sharing reasons to try anchor papers and tips for preparing them.  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Reasons to use anchor papers:

  • Anchor papers elevate the concept of modeling. Instead of just modeling unattainable perfection, anchor papers help students at all levels see the range of essay skills.
  • Anchor papers show that there is more than one way to achieve a rhetorical purpose. Showing students papers from a variety of writers with multiple perspectives, helps students see that good writing comes in many forms and realize that their unique voice is valuable.
  • Anchor papers clarify the directions. Anchor papers can help students grasp MLA, paragraph formatting, and other directions and help students pay closer attention to the rubric.
  • Anchor papers develop metacognition skills. Metacognition and self-assessment are incredibly important skills for students to learn. Anchor papers force students to pay attention to the way that they think about the topic and the rubric without just throwing something on paper and letting the teacher sort it out.

Tips for Preparing to Use Anchor Papers:

  • Embrace the process. It may take you a year to gather anchor papers to be used next year.  You may have to dig through old portfolios.  Don't pressure yourself to have it all together  immediately.  Make a goal and stick with it to see long-term results.
  • Consider getting permission and taking names off papers. Personally, I like to get permission from previous students before I use their paper as a model or anchor and even with permission I take their name off to avoid any awkwardness from current students who know previous students.
  • Creating a range is important. I've heard arguments for showing only the top papers, but I think that students learn a lot from seeing what doesn't work in addition to what does.
  • Set up an atmosphere of respect.  Be sure to have a game plan to preface the anchor paper grading activity, so that students know how to grade on the rubric with objective, appropriate language.
  • Authenticity is best. I don't know if any teacher in the world has time to write 5-10 anchor papers for a prompt, but even if you do have that kind of time and energy, I think authentic papers will work better.

What do you think?   Need more resources for teaching writing?  Check out Essay Architect!

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Topics: assessment, Essays, teaching tips, tips, writing

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