Monday, August 2, 2010

On Writing and Grading Writing

The title of this blog suggests the subject, but I should nuance my purpose. I assign my students work that requires them to write. Sometimes this writing is short -- one or two pages in length. Sometimes it is considerably longer. I assign writing projects because I believe strongly that students should have to articulate their ideas, and that reading assignments often deserve deeper attention than they usually receive in class. My problem comes not with assigning this sort of writing, but with grading it. I am never certain how I should evaluate another person's writing. Generally, I tend to look to see if the student has answered my question (or questions) to my satisfaction. If he or she has done so, then I give them a good grade. If they haven't, then I don't. I have noticed, however, as I teach more often, and as I assign more and more writing work to my classes, that more than a few people lack even rudimentary skill when it comes to writing an essay. My question is often repeated back at me a dozen times within a single page. Theses are obscure or non-existent. Spelling is terrible, and proof-reading has been shoddy if present at all. I don't expect perfect essays. I don't write perfect essays. I make mistakes. I rush through things at times, but when you need to turn in an assignment to your professor, then, at the very least, it should be read aloud once or twice. So many mistakes could be prevented if people would just read aloud their work. I think that I will have to consider ways to instruct people on writing techniques. I want students to leave my class, not only more aware of the topic that I teach, but also better able to articulate their thoughts. I think that if you leave college able to do nothing else but explain your thoughts and analyze something you've read, then you can consider yourself accomplished. The problem is -- how to do it? As I think, I'll write more. 


  1. There were two things I learned my first year of college that blew my mind and made me wonder what the bloody hell I'd been wasting my time doing in high school.

    One was the programming function: We studied Visual C every other day for a semester and somehow failed to get to this idea.(Ask Joe.)

    The other was the thesis in a piece of writing. That particular idea had never been adequately explained to me prior to college. Sure we'd had paper assignments (some lengthy) but in college we spent a whole chapter learning how to make a thesis and why it was important. Suddenly the rest of the paper had a purpose - it was there to support the thesis. I thought to myself, "Aha! I can engineer a three-pronged support." The devil was in the details, but that's nothing new.

  2. Things previous professors did for my classes:

    1. Gave a short talk before each paper on how to write properly.
    2. Assigned readings and response questions on how to write properly.
    3. Were thorough with the questions they wanted answered, or for students to look for in readings.
    4. Gave out a style sheet separately or in the syllabus.
    5. Asked for an early paper, graded harshly, and then gave students a chance to re-write. This re-write opportunity was not announced in advance, but the harsh grading was.
    6. Showed students how to find Spellcheck in Word.
    7. Had students purchase Turrabian.
    8. Put a sample paper up on Blackboard.