The Complexities of Responding to Student Writing seemed appropriate and related to tonight’s tweetchat for #fycchat.

No wonder that new ways to handle the paper load, advances in efficiency in the production of response, have a long history in the teaching of college composition. The use of lay readers (called “reading assistants” at Vassar before they were phased out in 1908) may be one of the earliest, but it was only a harbinger. Here is a short list of shortcuts, with date of earliest record I can find in the post-WWII literature.

Mark only the presence of problem, leaving it up to the student to locate and correct it (1940)

Use a projector to respond to student writing in class (1942)

Use a checklist, or rubberstamped scale of criteria (1950)

Hold one-on-one conferences to respond (1946)

Have fellow students read and respond to papers (1950)

Hold one-on-two or one-on-three conferences to respond (1956)

Record comments on audiotape (1958)

Respond only to praiseworthy accomplishments (1964)

Have students evaluate their own essays (1964)

Respond only to a limited number of criteria (1965)

Have students use computerized grammar, spelling, or style checkers (1981)

Add comments to the student’s digital text with word-processing footnotes or hypertext frames (1983)

What brought me there, though, was the cartoon.

6 thoughts on “Grading”

  1. Haha. Love the cartoon. That’s how I feel right now. I wanted to say that I really enjoyed “meeting” you at #fycchat last night. Thank you for all of your helpful advice.

  2. I keep trying to get the grading down to a more minimal level as well. While I am more streamlined that my earlier self, I still wish I could be quicker. Here’s what I do now:
    Minimal Marking: At the beginning of the semester I pass out a sheet with my grading symbols and codes. Some of them are standard editing symbols and some are my inventions. In the margins of their 1st essay, they get an X with the code beside it, and I either underline or circle the error. Essay #2, no circling or underlining. Essay #3 X in the margin only, with an occasional code.
    Error Log: After each essay the student is required to make a list of their errors, and where in the handbook they can find the answers for fixing them. They have to compile all the essays onto one sheet, hopefully they’ll see their progression and “own their errors.”
    Rubric: I make a rubric, adjusting it slightly for each essay. This keeps me honest and helps the student know that while I did mark off for POV switches, they overall only lost 3 points (thereby helping with the whining). The bulk of the grading is not in the “mechanical section” but in structure and content, and the rubric keeps me focused.

    Problems with marking a lot are, a) it takes too much time, b) it’s usually a waste of our time, and c) it’s discouraging to the student to see their paper filled with our ink.

    Now that I’ve written such a lengthy comment here, I think I’ll put it up on my blog: Thanks for the historical overview and interesting post!

  3. Once a student wailed, “Your pen broke on my paper!” Indeed I am a heavy marker, and I wish I were not because it bogs me down. However, who am I to decide this student is “ready” to learn to avoid passive voice while this other student is “ready” to learn to avoid verb tense shifts? Students learn whatever they are ready to learn. I explain this to students, and I tell them that I know it feels bad, like criticism, but that it is in fact the most individualized attention I can give them. I can talk about transitions to the whole class, but maybe only 25% need it. One way I reduce the negative impression is to use two ink colors: one for MLA and one for “regular” grading. Then I tell the students, “The orange ink is the easiest to make go away,” and they do. Then after I have marked all the papers, I list the errors on the last page so they have evidence of the gravity of so many (or so few) errors, then I write a paragraph of what would have made the paper better. I hate doing all this work, but this is my job. And, yes, the students do pay attention to the marks. And the comments? When I had the essays marked but had not written the comments, I offered to return the papers without comments, but the students wouldn’t have it. They want constructive feedback. Grading sucks, but it is important. After all, it’s a writing course.

  4. I too use a rubric to help with grading. But I combine the rubric with the “log of errors” approach. My rubric is a grid in which each positive expected outcome is ranked A-F, only I label the columns differently: Mastery, Exceeds expectations, Meets requirements, Developing, Not Yet. The points are: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, with the total being 100 for the entire table. (There are twenty topic areas, but that could be shortened to 10 with an adjustment to the points.) I use the same rubric for all four assignments, and simply attach the rubric from the first paper to the next paper. Then I note when they have not made improvements to a less than satisfactory assessment (a 2 or 1) by lowering the grade. For example, if I assessed 2 points (Developing) for writing a less than complete thesis on the first paper but I saw no improvement on the second paper, I assessed them 1 point (Not yet). They can see their successes because I put an improved point in bold. I notice when they have worked to improve; I target the areas where they need to improve; I instruct them to focus on the most grievous point discounts in order to raise their overall grades in a brief written recap. The overall points for each column determine their letter grade on an assignment. Because students can see the outcomes of working through specific problems incrementally, the rubric seems to have a positive impact on students in my basic writing classes. However, I confess that I have not yet used this method in a developmental writing class. This semester I will have my first trial for developmental students.

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