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Responding to Student Writing


Be clear with students about how you will grade their papers.  Most teachers break grades down into categories: A, B, C, etc., so consider including your students in a discussion about what is considered an “A” paper versus a “B” paper, and so on.  A discussion about grade ranges helps students understand the differences between the grades and what you expect from them.

Discussing what constitutes “good writing” in your discipline is also strongly recommended.  Ask students to identify successful examples from their own (or published) work.  Consider handing out sample student papers (with permission from former students) or fabricated examples.

Using Rubrics

Offering students a handout defining your grading criteria can be very useful, especially since the desirable features of a written text for one discipline can vary greatly from those for another discipline—something well known to faculty but not necessarily to students.  You may even want to involve students in the process of defining the rubric for a particular assignment.

Rubrics not only streamline your grading process and guide you to be fair and clear as you grade, but they also make it easier for students to understand how they might improve for their next assignment.

Handling the Paper Load

Grading papers can be the most cumbersome and difficult part of teaching writing-intensive classes.

Take a look at this list of “myths” about paper grading—the realities may help you shorten your grading time and, at the same time, give students the feedback they really need.

There is no simple solution to make the task of grading less daunting, but the following steps from Case Western Reserve University might help:

  • Set a timer for 15-20 minutes per paper.
  • Skim the paper to determine your priorities for commenting.
  • Focus your comments on two or three important points.  Often, students have a hard time picking out the important criticisms from lengthy commentaries.  Instead, identfy a few key concerns, and give students specific guidance on how to improve in these areas for the next essay.
  • Be sure to let students know what they are doing well.
  • Use student conferences to your advantage.  Meeting with students in a “rough draft” conference helps students know what they need to do to improve, so they usually turn in better final drafts as a result (and that reduces your grading time!).  Also, some instructors find that meeting with students for 15-20 minutes in a “post-paper” conference is more effective than writing extended comments.
  • Ask students to do a self-evaluation with their paper.  If a student admits to having an incomplete thesis, you can acknowledge that point and move on, rather than spending your time explaining a problem the student already knows about.

Grading with a Computer

As more communication with students happens via email, and as more students turn in assignments via a digital dropbox on Blackboard, many teachers are moving toward responding to student writing digitally.  Some argue that this is a simpler and more efficient way to respond to students and that students are able to benefit from the clarity and directness of in-text feedback.  For more information about grading with a computer, consult:

Evaluating and Commenting Upon Papers Using a Computer

Other Useful Links with Information About Grading Papers