Writing Program

Best Grading Strategies

D. Battles October 2016

The Best Strategies for Grading: Workshop Notes for Writing Faculty

Challenge: Balancing grading of essays against regular course prep. (Grading those essays means falling behind on class preparation, leading to a meltdown).
Solution 1: Staggered due dates for papers. If the course requires several research papers by the end of term, rather than having all students submit papers on the same deadlines, have students choose, and sign up for, their own due dates, spaced out over the term. This enables students to work their deadlines for your course around those for their other courses. For the instructor, it avoids the huge stack of papers, instead distributing the grading more evenly over the semester, and helps you to balance your grading time against regular course prep. Perhaps best suited for a W2 course.

Challenge: Time management issues in grading individual student papers. (Getting mired in the individual student essay and taking an hour per paper!).
Solution 1: Set a timer for each paper. No more than X number of minutes per paper.
Solution 2: Strategic grading. Rather than starting at the beginning of the essay and working to the end, go right to the parts of the paper you've emphasized in class, and assess those first: for instance, thesis, topic sentences, and use of evidence in one paragraph. Then go back and read the entire paper.
Solution 3: Divide and conquer! Break down the essays into smaller piles of 3 or 4, and move through the smaller piles, taking small breaks between piles, doing only so many per day over the course of several days.

Challenge: Knowing exactly what to grade for in a student essay. (Identifying those specific writing techniques that count in a particular assignment).
Solution: Grade papers only for those writing skills you've covered so far. For example, at the start of term, give students of list of the specific writing skills you will cover over the course of the term. If by Paper 1, you've covered three of those skills during in-class workshops, then grade the essays mainly on how well students applied the techniques you covered in class on those techniques. Students won't lose points for skills you haven't covered yet. For Paper 2, students will have a longer list of skills to apply, and by Paper 3, they will need to show mastery in applying all the skills on the list. Each new assignment increases the challenge while providing more practice of the earliest skills covered.

Challenge: In phased writing, where students first submit a thesis, then an outline, then a draft, how much should each phase "count" towards the final grade?
Solution 1: Make each phase count for a certain percentage of the grade. For example, the outline with topic sentences will count for 5%, the draft for 15%. This gives students actual credit for the time they spend on those smaller steps towards the larger paper. They get credit for all the work they do on an assignment.
Solution 2: Make the draft count for 30% of the grade, and the revision for 60% of the grade. This rewards students for putting in the extra effort in producing a quality draft.

Challenge: You've graded the draft thoroughly, and the student hands in a "revision" that is identical to the draft, ignoring all of your suggestions and comments, making you want to scream.
Solution 1: Set a policy that the revision is graded on the extent to which it is a revision. In other words, the grade can go down if the student has not taken into account the comments on the draft.
Solution 2: Exponentially increase deductions for "repeat offences" of writing issues. Harsh but potentially quite effective.
Solution 3: Don't accept the paper. Make it clear you want to student to get the best possible grade, and rather than putting a low grade on it, you want the student to have every opportunity to get that good grade. This works especially well if the paper has sound ideas and development, but includes a specific grammar issue (e.g. comma splices).
Solution 4: For students with good ideas but a chronic grammar issue, such as commas splices or run-on sentences, recruit them to scout out the best resource (a book or on-line resource) for addressing that particular grammar issue, something they feel really helped them to lick the problem, something they would definitely recommend to other students. Perhaps even give extra credit to these students-scouts. Future students will appreciate their tips!