Friday, March 3, 2017

A Different Angle On Grading (Chapter 9 from my book Writing Exercises)

What follows here is an amplification of chapter nine from my book Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else.

For what it’s worth, I do not have teaching degrees. Nor do I have any scientific studies to back my teaching approach. Everything here stems from personal observation regarding my own experiences as a student, a parent and a reader, with a dose of applied critical thinking a.k.a. common sense.

By grading, I mean the process of working alongside the student and conveying your observations, corrections and encouragement. Correcting your student’s writing is probably the most important part of the teaching process. Going over the assignment together gives you an opportunity to engage the mind of your child or student and should always be done privately, one on one. First off, criticism and correction can be painful enough when done privately, so doing it in front of others, whether siblings or public school classmates, can be especially so.

It does not have to be time consuming, but it does require taking the time to sit together and go over the work (as opposed to simply returning assignments with red marks all over them.)

When I was young I had a supervisor who believed one should say ten positive things to a person before saying something negative. He was always concerned that criticism would discourage employees rather than help. No employee is without shortcomings, neither will your student’s writing be.

That is why my approach to grading involves a variety of criteria so that one can give high marks on aspects of the work, which serve to soften the critical comments. In our home I used the following standards when evaluating work:

Creativity
Originality
Accuracy
Spelling
Grammar
Punctuation
Neatness

I always gave encouragement when our kids became emotionally engaged or psychologically involved in their work. Praise aggressively when you see this. This praise is very important because the first thing writers of all ages notice are those red marks. Those blemishes can breed discouragement. This is why I start each grading session by grading intangibles like creativity and originality.

As already noted, when students are writing essays, articles or stories I try to place myself “alongside” them so I'm on their team as they attempt to communicate an idea or feeling. I ask questions like, “Is this really what you meant? Would another word help describe that better? Would re-organizing these sentences produce a stronger statement? Can you tell me why you chose to end it this way?”

Spelling, grammar, punctuation and neatness all need proper attention, and by keeping the student motivated to write, you create ample opportunities to resolve all these technical aspects of their work.

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One of the basic premises of my book is that a student is not a good writer just because he or she makes no spelling errors or grammar mistakes. Good writing is writing that engages readers. The reason we learn to use proper spelling, punctuation and grammar is because mistakes can cause readers to stumble over what one is trying to say. That is, we write to communicate and because we care about our readers we should eliminate as many distractions as possible so they can follow where we're going, can hear what we're trying to say.

Does that make sense? Do you know what I mean?

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Writing Exercises is my eighth book. You can check out my others here at Eds-Books.com. Enjoy your weekend. 

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