I teach writing. I teach writing at the college level. These two statements could encompass a blog post all by themselves, but at the end of the Fall 2012 term, I find myself wanting only to focus on one part of my job: grading. I teach a variety of classes, so this term the “writing” includes research papers, literary analysis papers and creative writing portfolios. To sum up how this process has been going, I will quote myself as I responded to this post (courtesy of my friend, Sam) on Facebook:
Today in back-to-back newsfeed items:
“Man, my students really are blessing me this week. One just gave me a Christmas card that really touched me and let me know that I am doing something right in and out of the classroom. Humble”
“Time to get out my student-beating stick.”
As I read this post, I am knee deep in *research papers and I feel the constant push and pull of pride and despair.
This pretty much sums up the feelings I currently have and will continue to have throughout the next week as I move through the mountain of writing before me. And with this sentiment, I give you the pros and cons of grading college essays at the end of the term.
1. Improvement. This is a huge pro. Arguably, this is the best result of a final piece of writing. It’s not that it is an “A” paper or that it is “well written” or even that the student has stumbled across some insight that has never occurred to me. It is that they finally mastered APA formatting, or they wrote a killer thesis statement, or their poem finally came together or for the love of all things, they finally formatted their title page correctly. Hallelujah!
2. Creativity. An interesting quote in the introduction, a piece of fiction inspired by an author they admire, a well crafted sentence or a research topic that resonates on a personal level. All of these make me happy.
3. Directions. This may seem obvious and even trivial, but writing that meets the word count, writing that correctly uses APA format, writing that contains a title page and reference page, writing that includes the correct number of sources, etc. Never underestimate the power of following a simple set of directions.
4. Eloquence. Beautiful sentences, vivid imagery, clearly organized paragraphs, thoughtful conclusions, grammatically correct sentences, no misspellings, the correct use of a semi-colon and a clearly worded thesis statement.
1. Apologies. It is not a good omen to get a message from a student before reading their essay that apologizes for how terrible it is. Seriously?
2. APA Format. Admittedly, I don’t like this type of formatting but it is a necessary evil. It is also the #2 reason why students lose points on their papers. If you’re not sure, LOOK IT UP.
3. Directions. Repetition? This is the #1 reason students lose points on their papers. Word count isn’t met, sources are not present, APA, etc.
4. Sloppiness. This is not be confused with “poor writing.” Poor writing doesn’t anger me. Sloppiness does. Examples of sloppiness? Sentence fragments, misspellings, typos, missing words and sentences that don’t makes sense.
5. Laziness. My number one example of this problem? I take the time to read and comment on rough drafts. I do this so that students have the benefit of revising their papers before submitting final drafts. However, if you choose not to read my comments and then turn in the same exact paper with the same exact errors? Well, let’s just say, your grade is going to reflect that choice.
*In this comment I refer to research papers in particular, but this applies to all the writing I am grading this semester.