Just My Thoughts: Evaluating Student Writing

Log #8
Evaluating Student Writing

In “Responding to Student Writing” by Nancy Summers, she explores the reasoning and analysis that goes into evaluating, particularly reading, student papers. Summers echoes the reality that students need to become, rather taught to be the questioning reader of their papers as an internal, constant-thinking audience. Once this is achieved, students will have developed control over their writing.

What Summers comes across in her project on how professors respond to their students’ writing is that professors comments can sometimes be confusing. Most students do as less as possible to receive an A. The conflict this has with student papers is that they figure if they change a word or rephrase a part of their paper that the teacher has commented on, then they will receive an A. This is not necessarily the case. Because of this, some teachers end up misleading students. For example, telling a student they need to do more research does not give reasoning to help them understand how to make their papers more effective. It’s easy to say what’s wrong, but it’s harder to describe the reasons why. This is where most teachers have a hard time commenting on papers.

For me, what comes to light because of this issue is the teacher selection process. I decided to major in Writing for my undergraduate degree because of the teachers I had. They all gave me the courage as if I had a talent. They helped me find my voice with my writing, rather it be one-on-ones or meetings about paper comments. Another issue that comes to light is how do professors comment on what a student is doing positive in his or her writing.

In Peter Elbow’s essay, “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment,” he sets out to understand exactly what the title entails, ranking and overall coming to terms with evaluating student writing. While writing about this process, his first main point is that the process is unreliable. It is impossible to give a fair number that readers can agree on; in fact, it is impossible for most literary theorist to agree on the meaning of texts as well. This would makes it a tad bit harder when identifying a fair number to base grades on student papers on.

Something that comes to light for me after reading over Elbow’s essay is the number assigned to the writing portion of the new, standard SATs. My graduating year was the first to take the new SATs. In English classes, we would prep for the exam by writing out sample essays to the given prompts. This poses a problem for most students. For example, with many academics reading over these papers, it may be hard to give a concrete answer for their score. The two scorers always are within a point of each other, but what exactly does the essay section do for writers who struggle with the commonplace writing techniques. It puts them on a unequal playing field with their readers because the readers aren’t necessarily used to reading texts, but rather used to constructing meaning from texts.

One positive take away I did get from the Elbow essay was the grading rubric. I believe that teachers should have some sort of rubric outlined as he has in his essay or some form of it. In order to make students conscious readers of their writing as well, that rubric should be given to them in a syllabus, so they can make the best of their drafts and final assignments.

This graph above can be used and changed as needed. Another take away I like is not actually putting a grade on the paper. Many times, students will think they have mastered something; however, they still may need to work on some basic structural elements. In my undergraduate studies, my writing professors never gave a grade until midterm time. We would then be instructed to meet with that professor to see our standings or where we were in the course of the semester. This helps a great deal because it also helps the teacher get to know the student better along with their writing, making the teacher student relationship more productive in the end.

Portofolios are usually the end all and be all of the final grades. They help teachers choose a grade on a lot of different variables rather than giving a specific weight to one paper over the other. The struggle to grading student writing will exist as long as there are educational institutions. These two readings have shown me that while students write for the grades they won’t, professors also have a hard time figuring out how those grades will be given.

One of my professors told me his class was totally a competition. He would give out a set amount of As and so forth. But how he ranked those grades, the students will never know. If the grading rubric is transparent, it can open a lot of doors and even strengthen the teacher-student relationship.