Categorizing Student Work

  • Categorizing Student Work

    By David Wees, Posted June 8, 2015 –

    In the previous post, I argued that the numbers that result from scoring student work compress a lot of important information that could potentially help you plan a lesson. In this post, I outline a simple protocol to categorize the student work instead of merely scoring it.

    Start by looking through all your student work and take notes on what kinds of strategies students are using. For example, the five samples of student work below are from the same task I shared last time, Patchwork Quilt. Look at the student work and decide what strategies the students are using.

    2015-06-08 art1

    Here’s how I categorized these five examples, but it is by no means prescriptive. You should categorize student work in ways that are meaningful and useful to you.

    2015-06-08 art2 

    In this particular sample, all the students were successful at this task in different ways, and student 2 and student 3 were the most similar. In a larger, less selective sample of student work, we would expect a much wider variety of strategies and answers. To produce the most useful categorization of work, try to create categories that include students from a broad range of performance levels in each category and avoid categorizations that resemble “successful kids” in some groupings and “unsuccessful kids” in other groupings.

    With this in mind, I revise and broaden each of the categories. I also include more information about the type of thinking that students are doing and less about how successfully they answered the question. I want to look through more than five samples of work. When I do, I might end up with the categories in the table below.

    2015-06-08 art3
    One caveat here: Just because a student choses a particular strategy for solving a particular problem does not mean that he or she does not know other strategies for solving the same kind of problem. Paying attention to general trends over time is important.

    Additionally, recognize that some of the strategies seen in student work are somewhat hierarchical. Students who add numbers on to continue the pattern may be abstracting from continuing to draw the pattern. Students who use a division strategy may be aware that they could use multiplication to solve the same kind of problem.

    Once the categories are set up, go through the rest of the student work and assign each student’s work to one category. In ambiguous cases, select a category that you think will be most helpful in making decisions, perhaps based on this idea of a hierarchy within the strategies. Focus on one specific and critical question from within a larger task, in this case, question 2 from the Patchwork Quilt task, so that you aren’t overwhelmed with the amount of work. In some cases, this may mean looking through the entire task and selecting a category that is based on all the different strategies that students used for similar questions.

    In my next post, I will discuss how we can meaningfully use this categorized student work in a couple of different ways.

    2015-05-25 Wees DavidDavid Wees,, is a Formative Assessment Specialist for New Visions for Public Schools in New York. He tweets at @davidwees and blogs at

    Leave Comment

    Please Log In to Comment