Give grades early and often.
Don’t give just individual grades but also give averages.
I think grades should be averaged and conveyed to the students at least twice a semester. I give them out a minimum of three times. And I often give them out four times.
I like to know where I am and how I am doing on things. I think the students do too.
Tell them how you grade.
You should know how you grade, if you aren’t brand new to the field. (And even then you should know how you are going to grade this semester.)
Students like to know.
If you are a big spelling person, let them know those are major errors.
If you refuse to grade papers that are not formatted correctly, make sure the student know that too.
Look for rubrics online if you need help.
Some good rubrics
Andrew Newman’s is a good place to start, dividing the grade into thirds:
concepts and content
argument and structure
grammar and mechanics
The first page of this pdf has an English composition rubric.
A handout from Troy University’s Writing Center has a discussion as well as a rubric.
UC Davis has a good presentation of what the different grades mean. I don’t really think of that as the rubric. It’s more the guidelines, in my opinion.
The rubric is what lets the student know why they got an A or an F.
Explain the weighting system.
Some people freak out when they make a poor homework grade. I’ve had someone decide to drop because of a 70. But it was out of 3000 possible points that they were missing those extra 30. And it was only 20% of the grade and on the essays, the major portion of the grade, they had an A average. Thankfully they did talk to me before they dropped the course. But sometimes students don’t.
You can tell your students your weighting system (I do), but don’t expect them to remember that abstract discussion on day 1 when it comes time for the papers. So reiterate when the paper is major. “This essay will be 15% of your final grade.” I don’t point out when the work is minor, because then fewer people would do it and I would get frustrated. That’s in the syllabus. They can look it up.
Make sure they know what their grades mean.
The students need to know where in the big picture this grade falls. So when I hand back papers I also say, “This was out of a possible 50 points.” or “This is a homework grade worth 1/30th of your homework average.” or “This is a major paper. It’s ten percent of your grade.” (I make sure they know about the major grades when they are assigned, too.)
The students also need to be reminded if you have an unusual grading scale. Do they have to make a 93 to get an A? Is 90-100 an A, but 70-74 is a D? Let them know it and remind them.
Sometimes, especially when I am teaching multiple sections of the same course, I will put all the grades for a paper on the board.
I think this helps the students who made low grades know that they weren’t in the majority. (So they can’t say, “Well, she’s just a hard grader.”) And it lets the students who do well know that others did too.
Know that sometimes the value won’t matter.
I’ve had good students blow off a 5% grade. “I’ve got an A anyway.” and “My college only gives credit, so as long as I have a B I am okay.”
I don’t like it. But I can’t make their decisions for them.
I have started weighting everything as at least 10% though. It makes it harder to blow off.