Ways to Respond to Non-Graded
Writing in the WR Classroom
By Annie Tarbox
Not all writing that students do in a WR course is evaluated. Instructors can have students complete short, in-class writings, journals, daily "observation" notebooks, short responses or analyses of assigned readings, and mini-essays or microthemes (see Microthemes) that do not receive grades individually. Between these short, daily assignments and the preliminary drafts that instructors may collect and respond to for their students, even the non-graded paper load can add up quickly and seem overwhelming.
One fortunate aspect of non-graded writing is that not all of it needs to be read solely by you as the instructor. In fact, peer reading/revision groups go a long way toward facilitating the draft reading and revision process.
There are some questions that both instructors and students can use when reading preliminary drafts that can aid in making productive revision suggestions. Robert Connors and Cheryl Glenn, in their 1995 book The St. Martin's Guide to Teaching Writing (3rd ed. NY: St. Martin's Press), suggest the following:
The Assignment: Does the draft carry out the assignment? What could the writer do to better fulfill the assignment?
The Title and the Introduction: Does the title tell the reader what the draft is about? Does it catch the readers' interest? How? What does the opening accomplish? How else might the writer begin?
The Thesis and the Purpose: Paraphrase the thesis as a promise: "In this paper, I will . . ." Does the draft fulfill that promise? Why, or why not? Does it fulfill the writer's major purposes?
The Audience: How does the draft capture the interest of and appeal to the intended audience?
The Rhetorical Stance: Where does the writer stand on the issues involved in the topic? Is the writer an advocate or a critic? What words or phrases in the draft indicate the stance? Where does the writer's stance come fromthat is, what influences have likely contributed to that stance?
The Support: List the main points, in order of presentation. Then number them in order of interest to you. Review them one by one. Do any need to be explained more fully or less fully? Should any be eliminated? Do any seem confusing or boring? Do any make you want to know more? How well are the main points supported by evidence, examples, or details?
The Organization: What kind of overall organization plan is usedspatial, chronological, logical, or some other plan? Are the points presented in the most useful order? What, if anything, might be moved? Can you suggest ways to make connections between paragraphs clearer and easier to follow?
The Paragraphs: Which paragraphs are clearest and most interesting to read, and why? Which ones are well developed? How are they developed? Which paragraphs need further development? What kind of information seems to be missing?
The Tone: What dominant impression does the draft createserious, humorous, satiric, persuasive, passionately committed, highly objective? Mark specific places where the writer's voice comes through most clearly. Is the tone appropriate to the topic and the audience? Is it consistent throughout? If not, is there a reason for its being varied?
The Conclusion: Does the essay conclude in a memorable way, or does it seem to end abruptly or trail off into vagueness? If you like the conclusion, tell why. How else might it end?
Final Thoughts: What are the main strengths and weaknesses in the draft? What surprised you and why? What was the single most important thing said? What do you want to know more about?
These questions can be tailored to your particular classroom needs and can be given to students to use not only during class time but as homework assignments as well. Critically reading and responding to another student's draft can aid students a great deal in their own critical thinking and writing skills.
Your responses to non-graded writing will depend a great deal on your course goals and objectives although it is important to keep in mind that this writing can be a valuable learning/critical thinking tool for students.
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