Editor's Note: In the November 1996 WRite Away!, Melinda Kreth offered some tips and guidelines for responding to preliminary drafts of student texts. Stressing the value of responding to drafts as a way of helping students to "'re-vision' the entire text (its content, style, format, etc.) from multiple perspectives," Kreth noted, "students will benefit far more from the process of revising than from simply handing in a paper at the end of the semester."
But now it is the end of the semester. Your students (you hope) have revised their texts, and have turned them in for a final assessment. This can be an anxious moment not only for your students but for you the teacher.
On the one hand, you want to be fair, honoring your students’ efforts and commitment to the course materials and goals; on the other hand, you have a duty to the development of the students’ standards, to your department, to the integrity of your discipline, and to the academy as a whole. What follows are some suggestions gleaned from composition scholars about the tricky business of evaluating student texts.
Some compositionists have suggested that
it is useful to think of evaluation in three phases:
post-evaluation (Moss & Holder).
In the pre-evaluation stage, teachers determine the time constraints for marking the entire set of papers, how much time they can spend on each one, and their goals and objectives for assessing this particular assignment. In the evaluation stage, teachers then can zero in on the specific aspects of each paper that they need to address. For example, what comments can I make that would be most beneficial to my students? What is the best way to phrase those comments, and what are my standards for assigning a grade? Finally, in the post-evaluation stage, it can be useful not only for the student, but also for you, the teacher, to ask: What is the best possible path to take to help my students become better critical thinkers and more effective writers?
After you have determined for yourself the time constraints and the particular objectives that will guide your evaluations, you then sit down with a stack of texts before you. There are, of course, a variety of approaches to the actual process of marking and evaluating texts, but many compositionists recommend a holistic approach to assessment. According to The Bedford Guide for Teaching Writing in the Disciplines, a holistic approach compels the teacher to read the entire text at least twice without making marginal notations, comments, or corrections. Instructors are urged to “put away the pen” and to read carefully and thoughtfully, looking for patterns of organization, general content, and the overall structure of the argument (213-14). Once you have determined the overall patterns and structures, then you can go back and make marginal notes where the argument or meaning is unclear. Figure 1 offers a few things to remember when you make marginal notes.
If the marginal notes function as a space within which you can respond as a reader to sentence- and paragraph-level concerns as well as mechanical errors, then the end note can operate as a space for you to provide summative comments that address the more “global” and major rhetorical issues of content, organization, and style. If a student’s paper is poorly organized or the thesis is not adequately developed, the end note is the place to address these issues. Here is where one can tactfully point out the major strengths and weaknesses of the text as a whole. In addition, end notes also provide the justification and rationale for the grade that you assign.
Rubrics and Grading
Although there are a number of ways to grade student writing, among the most popular are rubrics. A rubric is a scoring guide, a list of characteristics or criteria for low-, middle-, and high-quality papers. Criteria should be clearly explained in the syllabus or clearly spelled out on a separate document. Figure 2 provides a sample rubric you can adapt for your class. The most effective rubrics, the ones that give a full explanation of and rationale for the assigned grade, are those that are assignment specific, that address the major concerns of the individual assignment.
Many teachers approach evaluation of student texts and assignment of a final grade — quite naturally — with some trepidation. But if one approaches the task as a thoughtful process, not unlike the writing process itself, with certain procedures and steps, then a portion of the apprehension that we all feel can be alleviated. Perhaps some of the suggestions supplied in this article can aid in this process. More importantly, they may also serve to help our students to become more thoughtful and successful writers.
Howard, Rebecca Moore, and Sandra Jamieson. The Bedford Guide to Teaching Writing in the Disciplines. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995.
Lunsford, Andrea and Robert Connors. The St. Martin’s Handbook. New York, St. Martin’s P, 1989.
Moss, Andrew, and Carol Holder. "Evaluating Students' Writing." Improving Student Writing: A Guidebook for Faculty in All Disciplines. ERIC ED 295218.
Troyka, Lynn Quitman. Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996.
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