Saturday, January 1, 2011

Grading Rationale

Here is a generic grading rubric for me to use when grading an essay and for students to use as a checklist to ensure they have met an assignment's requirements:

Effectively opens and focuses the paper                                   yes+      yes     no

Clear main points                                                                    yes+      yes     no
Effective use of proof to support main points                            yes+      yes     no
Avoids using general statements                                               yes+      yes     no

Effectively closes the paper                                                      yes+      yes     no

Smooth organization, effective transitions                                   yes+      yes     no
Effective use of word control (avoids needless repetition,
          avoids defaulting to second person,
          effective word choice, avoids filler)                                 yes+      yes     no
Effective use of sentence variety                                               yes+      yes     no
Effectively caters to the audience's needs and wants                  yes+      yes     no
        (encourages readers to want to read the essay)
Correctly uses MLA format                                                                  yes     no                   
Correct grammar, usage, mechanics(no more than
           three mistakes per typed page)                                                   yes     no

7-9 yes+                    = A 
1-6 yes+                    = B
all yeses                    = C
one no                       = D
two or more noes      = Redo/F                            
Your Grade:_______

1.  A yes+ means that section is exceptionally well done.  It means the writing goes beyond the obvious, the overused, and only completing an assignment because a student was asked to do so.  It means the writing is specific, unique to the author, and that it communicates in a way that supports the entire paper. Finally, it means that the audience is fully engaged in the writing--that the author has not left the reader out of the paper.

2.  A yes means the writing meets the requirements of the assignment.

3.  A no means the writing does not meet the requirements of the assignment.

4.  I take into consideration whether or not the essay was done in class (meaning students have not had time to polish and revise their papers)  or out of class (the longer the span of time between the assigned task and the due date means the higher my expectations for the outcome of the essay).

5.  All yeses means the entire paper meets the requirements; therefore, the paper is average, a C.

6.  One no means the entire paper is below average, which is a D.

7.  Two or more noes means the entire paper does not medt the requirements, and depending on the situation will earn an R (for redo) or an F.

8.  For major papers, students NEVER have to settle for a grade they do not like; they are encouraged to redo them.  I allow this system because  teaching writing means inspiring students to fully experience their own power as authors.  I've broken this idea into parts A-F below:

A.  Writing growth comes from revision.  All too often, teachers, who think it is their job to correct every mistake, mark up papers, give a grade, and that is the end of the assignment.  If this is the case, then a very important, higher-order thinking skill is omitted:   the student applying what the teacher has taught to his or her own work.

B.  Students must think about what is missing, confusing, or overdone in their written communication.  Unless teachers demand that students do this, it probably won't happen except for the few students who are naturally adept at revision.  In general, I've found if I don't call every single student back to the perch, as I call it, where two chairs and a table allow me to freely explain my margin notes and comments and for students to freely ask questions to clarify their confusion and to see that their grade is nothing personal.  This time is so important that I will spend as long as it takes to conference with every student in the classroom until he or she can understand what I am saying.  In this case my DEMANDING is simply me calling each student back to the perch to discuss what worked in the paper and what needs revising.  It is a very gentle, truthful, safe process that allows me to build the very important student-writing teacher relationship, which encourages students to seek help when they need it, but to eventually gain independence in their writings skills that will be with them forevermore.

C.  Students must see that their papers are from and for themselves and their audience, not merely to complete the assignment.  Teachers do a disservice when they do not require students to work hard to create a writing they are proud to have others read(this they references both the teachers and the students).  Redoing encourages students to meet personal goals, not wait for a certain grade like lottery players wait for certain numbers.

D.By redoing, students begin to see their own role in what they write.  If they are stuck, they need to be asked important questions:  What are you trying to say?  In one sentence tell me what your entire paper is about (aka the thesis statement).  Do you see places where you have left readers out of your paper?  Where have you used general statements?  Can you see that you have defaulted to using second person?  I try to guide students through the parts that are going nowhere.  Usually when students are stuck, they have nothing to say about a subject.  If that is the case, it is important to ask questions. This is the point where students sometimes get frustrated and say things like, "Can't you just tell me what you want?" My response is always, "Nope.  Instead you tell me what you want to say."  A key point must be noted here.  If students conference with me, I will extend their paper's deadline if they realize they need more time to develop a paper worth reading.  It's very important to truly encourage students to go beyond what they have created before, so that means I must work with them.  However, I am a stickler when it comes to students who see me the day or two before a paper is due that they must buck up or pay the consequence of losing the due date points I give for each paper (25-50 points per major paper that is turned in on time.  If it's not in on time, the 25 becomes a 0). This grade is separate from the paper grade; it is merely a due date grade.

E.  Students procrastinate, but that doesn't mean they should not be expected to write well.  Some students can stay up until 3:00 a.m. and turn in a great paper, but from my experience, I have found that most cannot.  So redoing helps students reach their writing potential rather than being graded on a quickly written assignment completion.  If I truly want students to turn in excellent work, I must stand by that in the structure of the class.

F.  Students would sometimes rather get the bad grade, so I let them.  If students do not redo their work, natural consequences occur:  a Redo changes to a 55% in the gradebook, which is an F.  When students see their grades and know they have the choice to redo their work, they will often do this.  If they don't want to, that is their prerogative.  I don't lose sleep over it. But I would lose sleep over it if students wanted to redo their major works and I didn't allow that opportunity because it is truly beneficial for writing growth.  On major assignments, I mark students as incomplete until they turn in at least one draft.

So, I hope I have shed light on a system I have grown to love because of the results:  students become better writers, writers who are confident to handle any writing they encounter (or so they tell me after they go to college).

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