Grading Students' Classroom Writing: Issues and
Strategies. ERIC Digest.
by Speck, Bruce
"How can I grade students' writing?" is a perennial question professors
ask, regardless of their discipline. While a great deal of literature about
grading classroom writing is available to professors (Speck, 1998a), that
literature is scattered throughout a variety of sources. The purpose of
Grading Students' Classroom Writing: Issues and Strategies is to synthesize
major issues in the literature to make it accessible to professors throughout
the disciplines. Thus, Grading Students' Classroom Writing discusses the
relation of the writing process to the grading process, ways to construct
effective writing assignments, theoretical issues in grading related to
fairness and professional judgment, ways to include students in the assessment
of writing, and guidelines professors can use to provide effective feedback
for students to revise their writing. It does not focus on discipline-specific
criteria for grading students' writing, because each discipline has its
own norms and conventions. Professors need to communicate these norms and
conventions to students to effectively and fairly grade students' writing.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO INTEGRATE GRADING INTO THE WRITING PROCESS?
The writing process is recursive and includes various stages of revision.
In integrating grading into the writing process, professors must consider
the relationship between the grading process and a grade. The grading process
results in a grade, the final evaluation professors give either to an individual
assignment or to a series of assignments that included grades for individual
writing assignments within the series. The grade is one part of the grading
process, not the focus of the process. Indeed, the grading process extends
from the development of a writing assignment to the administration of a
final grade. When the grade is abstracted from the grading process, students
may be left wondering how a grade was derived, professors may be put in
the awkward position of explaining and defending a grade after the fact,
and evaluation may be severed from the process of writing.
Nevertheless, integrating grading and the writing process is not without
difficulties, including tension between the professor's roles as mentor
and judge. The dual roles of mentor and judge raise ethical issues about
the grading process and the grade and, in some quarters, undercut the writing
process in favor of the grade. Such undercutting is unfortunate because
the writing process can help students learn not only how to approach a
writing task effectively but also how to evaluate their own and their peers'
WHY DO PROFESSORS NEED TO CONSTRUCT EFFECTIVE WRITING ASSIGNMENTS?
Because the writing assignment specifies what students are expected
to do and how students' written products will be evaluated, the writing
assignment should include necessary information about audience and purpose,
the two pillars of writing. The writing assignment also is the appropriate
occasion for discussing discipline-specific norms and conventions for writing.
Writing assignments, like most written products, should go through a process
that includes peer review, so professors can enlist colleagues and students
to critique writing assignments before the assignments are formally introduced.
HOW CAN PROFESSORS ENSURE THAT THEIR PROFESSIONAL JUDGEMENTS ARE
Although answers to the question of fairness are often discussed in
terms of reliability and validity, the application of statistical requirements
for reliability and validity are probably impractical in grading classroom
writing. Grading methods that include the use of a rubric or some other
tangible expression of grading criteria can promote greater fairness in
grading, however (Anderson & Speck, 1998). Nevertheless, fairness in
classroom assessment is complicated by a variety of issues (Allison, Bryant,
& Hourigan, 1997; White, Lutz, & Kamusikiri, 1996; Zak & Weaver,
1998). In fact, fairness is inextricably linked with professional judgment,
because the professor is the grading authority in the classroom. Thus,
professors need to be sensitive to their responsibility for fairness when
they grade students' papers.
HOW CAN PROFESSORS USE THEIR AUTHORITY TO PROMOTE STUDENTS' LEARNING?
A powerful way to promote students' learning is to involve them in the
grading process. To do so, professors should consider training students
to function effectively as peer reviewers, modeling for them the integration
of formal, subject matter, and teaching authority into the grading process
so that students have examples of professional evaluators they can emulate
when they serve as peer reviewers. When students are given the opportunity
to function as professionals in the classroom, they can learn how to make
informed decisions about writing quality, a task many students will be
required to do in their vocations in nonacademic settings. Students' involvement
also includes self-assessments.
HOW CAN THE PROFESSORY HELP STUDENTS TO LEARN HOW TO RESPOND EFFECTIVELY
Providing effective feedback to students will help them learn to revise
their writing. Unfortunately, the literature on professors' feedback to
students' writing includes numerous examples of how not to provide feedback.
Three common inappropriate responses are cryptic responses, negative responses,
and too much response. These forms of response are predicated on views
of grading that are not commensurate with the writing process, primarily
because they focus on errors. Fortunately, negative examples can serve
a cautionary note, suggesting that professors need to learn how to provide
effective feedback. Professors can take a step toward providing useful
feedback by recognizing the perils they face when they read students' writing.
When professors are sensitive to those perils, they can take a more cautious
and more positive approach to reading and responding to students' writing.
In particular, professors can provide written comments on students' writing
by creating a dialogue when writing responses, pointing out writing, refraining
from making unprofessional c successful omments, summarizing the gist of
marginal comments at the end of a paper, giving students options for revising
the paper, writing comments that model good writing, and deferring the
assignment of a grade as long as possible. Positive, well written responses
perfect the art of providing effective feedback to students and serve as
models of desirable writing.
WHAT SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE TO HELP PROFESSORS EFFECTIVELY GRADE STUDENTS'
Effective grading of students' writing is hard work that requires a
great deal of time and a commitment to reading the literature on grading
classroom writing. Without administrative support, including appropriate
class sizes and teaching loads, professors need to consider just how much
time and energy they should devote to promoting the intertwining of the
writing and grading processes. To the extent that professors do elect to
use these intertwining processes, they might consider establishing a plan
to integrate the processes in their classes over an extended period of
time and to consult the literature on the grading of classroom writing
for detailed information about effectively promoting the writing and grading
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