7 Must-Knows for Grading a Writing Assignment
You scheduled the writing assignment. They whined. You cajoled, suggested ideas for topics, and drove them to the library for their research. They rejected your clever ideas and drove you crazy. And then, the impossible happened. They actually handed in their papers.
In shock, you asked yourself, “Now what?”
You are more than capable of grading your student’s writing assignments. Here are 7 must-knows about writing assignments:
- Students need—let me emphasize the word need—timely responses to their writing assignments. If their work is not reviewed and graded in a timely manner (within a week), students will not see the value in their work, and they will quit writing. The longer you wait to grade, the less weight your evaluation will have with them.
- Whether you choose a letter or number grade, the explanation of how you arrived at that grade will help your students immensely. We are grading our students so we can ascertain their relative proficiency and so they can learn, progress, and improve their writing skills. To that end, write on the paper and explain verbally the paper’s strengths and weaknesses, praising the positive aspects and then showing how the paper can be improved.
- There is no need to grade everything in every paper. For instance, if your students just learned how to arrange their points in an effective order, tell them their point order will be a higher percentage of their grade. Consider grading more lightly in the beginning of the school year and more completely after students have learned some writing skills.
Very Practical Details of a Writing Assignment
And now, to the promised “very practical details.” Essays and reports are broken into their component parts below. Looking at each piece may help you evaluate your students’ writing as a whole.
The more successful your students are in applying the following components, the higher the grade. Not all of the questions and statements in each section will apply to every writing assignment. This will depend on the type of writing assignment and the age of the student.
Technical aspects of any nonfiction writing assignment: Did the student meet the deadline? Is the paper double-spaced (whether handwritten, typed, or computer printed)? Does it contain the number of words or pages you assigned? Is there an introductory paragraph? A concluding paragraph? Does each point or reason reside in its own paragraph or group of paragraphs? Is there a topic sentence for each point or reason?
Other technical aspects are spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence length and type, and citation of facts. Sentences are easily absorbed if they are about twenty words or fewer; however, variety in sentence length and type helps keep the reader reading. Citing sources is an important skill for older writers to learn because it prevents plagiarism and lends credence to the fact, illustration, or source. Practical help on citing sources can be found at www.plagiarism.org and www.easybib.com.
Another technical aspect is proofreading. If your students hand in a rough draft instead of a polished essay or report, a lower grade is indicated. Students should proofread their work at least three times before correcting and handing the paper to you. To ensure that your students do this, ask for a copy of each rough draft as it rolls off the presses so you can see the corrections and the progress.
1. Introductions: The introduction is not simply a meaningless façade atop an aging building. It is the portal through which the reader enters the essay or report and should contain the following elements that guide the reader. The first sentence should grab readers and pique their interest in the rest of the essay or report by using a tantalizing fact, quotation, true story, or question. By the end of the introduction, the writer should make known the topic of the essay or report, the view of the writer (for it or against it if this is a persuasive essay), and the direction in which the writer is taking the topic–the main idea or thesis statement, which often is the last sentence in the introduction. A report on, say, America’s national parks could go in many directions: how the parks protect the country’s history and natural features, how the national parks movement began, the history of how certain parks came into being, and so forth. The thesis statement reflects the specific direction the writer chose.
2. Content: Does the paper get to the point quickly, and does it stick to the point? No rambling allowed. Occasionally, a student will write a paper that does not match its thesis statement or does not fulfill the requirements of the assignment. When either of these occurs, points should be deducted.
Look at the points or reasons your student used. Do the points, stated in the topic sentences, effectively support or enhance the thesis statement? Are they arranged in a logical, effective order? Is the paper easy to read and easy to understand? Is it otherwise noteworthy, brilliant, or even humorous? Is it interesting? Does it stay on topic, or does it at some point diverge from the topic? Does it show that the student thought through the issues or subject matter? Does the student draw logical conclusions based on the facts presented and on the facts available?
Does the essay or report cover the topic adequately? Is it clear that the student researched the subject well?
3. Conclusions: Conclusions wrap up the discussion by summing up the thesis statement in a new way, giving a call to action (in persuasive essays), perhaps finishing a story begun in the introduction or using similar language found in the introduction, and leaving the reader with food for thought and conclusions the writer has drawn. An especially powerful fact or story can be saved for the conclusion, but new points or topics should not be introduced here.
4. Persuasive essays: These are slightly different from other essays because students have to choose a side. They have to be either for the issue or against it, and they have to convince readers, by using facts, examples, and logical thinking, that their view is the best one. An opposing view may be mentioned briefly but only to refute it. If your student explains the pros and cons of both sides in this essay, he has written an expository essay, not a persuasive one. Persuasion is all about trying to convince a reader to believe a certain view.
Most persuasive essays should end with a clear, measurable call to action. For instance, if the student is trying to persuade readers that Mac computers are better than PCs, the call to action might be to buy a Mac the next time the reader is in the market for a new computer. You assigned. They wrote. You graded. Now you know how much they’ve learned, and they know their strengths and areas for improvement. For that, you deserve an A+.
Sharon Watson homeschooled her children for 18 years and along the way, taught high school composition, fiction writing, and literature to local homeschool students and all-day workshops. She is the author of the homeschool writing curriculum, Jump In! You can find out more at her website, WritingWithSharonWatson.com. This article is copyright (c) 2011 by Sharon Watson.