On our first day of school, I always have my students write for 5 minutes. They get to choose the subject, and I direct them to pick a topic they know a lot about. For example, some of my boys are football players, and are confident they've got oodles of experience to pull from. Some of the students have a particular musical group they know a lot about. I suggest the children choose something they are an "expert" about.
They write the topic they are writing on at the top of their paper. I then set the timer for five minutes, encouraging them to write for the whole time; if they get stuck in a rut, I tell them they should try to keep the writing flowing...
After collecting the papers, later in the day (or the next day) I count the number of words in their piece, and write in on their paper. I then file the papers somewhere where I can find them at the end of the year. (For me, a clutter queen, this is sometimes a challenge...)
In the last few weeks of school, I hand each student a blank piece of paper. On it is their name, and the topic they wrote on earlier. Again the timer is set for 5 minutes, and the class is given the same directions.
After counting the number of words they wrote, we compare the two papers, and discuss. What differences do they notice between the two writings? What did they learn, which is evident from the second stab at the subject? How did they grow as a writer? How did their feelings about writing change over the school year? Why is increasing stamina important to a writer?
The two papers can be stapled together, and the students can even write a letter to their parent, outlining how they have grown as writers and what kind of writing strategies they have added to their tool belt.
What kind of writing activities do you do that will serve as evidence of writing growth? I am always in the mood for some alternatives...