When I began teaching writing, I didn’t grade student work. I didn’t want my students paralyzed by the prospect of a bad grade or afraid to try something new and potentially exciting in their writing. So I didn’t grade. I gave copious feedback and coaching and relied on — well — the desire of the student to learn.
Ask me how that turned out.
Let’s just say that I now have a grading system.
It quickly became apparent that kids used the looming grade as motivation to complete their work and implement the feedback they received in strong revisions. There was just no getting around it: grades were here to stay.
I created rubrics for every assignment so that there would be a less subjective quality to the resulting grade. I wanted my students to feel empowered and more in control of the outcome.
Despite the fact that I now have a grading system in place, I still don’t believe in traditional grading for written work. In order for growth to happen, a writing student needs to feel free trying new things and discovering what suits their style best. The young writer should be able to experiment and play with their voice and word usage to discover what works. But this discovery and experimentation doesn’t happen when the student worries it might impact his grade. According to the student’s risk-benefit analysis, trying something new is simply not worth the risk of a poor grade.
So I am an easy grader.
It’s virutually impossible to fail an assignment with me unless you don’t follow directions. And there’s always points given for “improvement and effort” so that students can see the value I place on this aspect of their work. In fact, most students end up hovering at a high B or low A if they put in honest effort.
This generous grading has worked well. I seem to have struck a that hard to find balance. Students are happy to try new classes and communicate easily with me about their assigmments. The result? I see progress in almost every student I work with.
While strict grading might have its place in math or science where consistency is key, I’m all in for easy grading when it comes to writing.