Shelley Reid .


Shelley's Quick Guides for Writing Teachers:
Responding and Grading

"The purpose of any commentary is first to dramatize the presence of teachers as concerned readers and second to instill in writers that they too must be active readers of their own texts" (Brannon & Pradl 32).  A distant third: to explain how/why the student got a "B-."


  1. Make all responses count for something

    1. defense/justification of grade (minimal)

    2. specific encouragement to write as well as and better than the current draft

    3. clear, specific assistance in re-seeing this essay and/or essays (essay elements) in the future

    4. opportunity (requirement) for reconsideration/revision, and instruction about how/where to start

  2. Prioritize responding

    1. Save your time

    2. Don't overwhelm the writer: teach him/her two things rather than correcting twenty

    3. Keep a list of common issues that you can teach the whole class (again) later

    4. Respond less when writers will not have the opportunity to use such comments in future revising/writing (corollary: when you comment a lot, use class time and/or other assignments to encourage writers to put your comments to good use -- don't waste your investment)

  3. Evaluate more; rank less

    1. Every ranking -- and every degree of ranking -- requires time and defensibility:  if you give scores for six elements (thesis, org., evid., research, style, mechanics), and have 10 or more ranks for each (A+, A, A-…), you're making dozens of ranking calculations for every essay

    2. Every ranking distracts the reader and writer from response and evaluation

    3. Ranking stops the learning process; evaluation nurtures it

    4. Ranking depletes the reader-writer relationship; evaluation enriches it

  4. Consider separating evaluation from grading

    1. …in your mind/record-keeping (where will you jot down the "B-"? where other evaluations? what's the most important thing you want to remember about this student or her writing?)

    2. …for students in their learning process (when can you give students response without grades? how can you help them remember and apply the most important evaluations of their writing?)

  5. Create assignments and assessment criteria together

    1. Avoid "modal confusion" (Fulkerson): don't ask for "lively narrative" and then grade mostly for topic sentences; don't ask for "comparison" and then grade for argument

    2. Clarify your criteria in advance, for students and for yourself as the future-grader

    3. Teach/write to the "test":  in class, find ways to describe, demonstrate, show, and/or practice reaching the "high water mark" for the key criteria you've developed; teach to the expectations of the essay at hand rather than to some generic "good essay"

  6. Grade the essay, not the student

    1. Articulate criteria for which you can find evidence in the essay:  not "good effort" but "addresses complex questions"; not "invested little time in writing" but "not enough support from outside sources to be persuasive"

    2. Consider the student (to add tone/nuance to comments); evaluate the essay (to increase consistency of judgments across a set of essays)

    3. Beware the intentional fallacy: comment on or query what the student might have meant, but evaluate what she actually wrote in the essay

    4. If you're strongly tempted to grade the student, consider altering your criteria to grade all students similarly (e.g., giving all students the opportunity to correct grammar errors for a better grade lets you encourage your non-native speakers to improve without giving them special treatment)

  7. Shelley's two personal preferences

    1. Value-added rather than deficit grading:  Define -- and believe in! -- a "C" as "competent" and other grades in relation (rather than defining an "A" as "excellent" and all other grades as degrees of failure) in order to emphasize accomplishment, not fear

    2. Holistic grading rather than strictly analytical grading:  Remark on and evaluate elements of an essay, perhaps using a rubric, but rank only the overall essay, allowing significant strengths or significant deficiencies to guide but not numerically determine the final grade






Last updated June 2008 Email Shelley Reid