When students are just beginning to learn to write, they write poorly and deserve poor grades. Getting poor grades may discourage them from learning to write well enough to get better grades. On the other hand, they may misunderstand a high grade for effort as a grade for skill.
What’s a teacher to do?
I prefer to drop all grades students earn before they achieve competence on three formal writing assignments in a row. Educational administrators, however, don’t always share my opinion that counting students’ learning against them is as unfair as telling a basketball team it can’t be league champion because it lost its first three games of the season.
When I can’t drop pre-competence scores, the least unsatisfactory solution I’ve found is this:
- Maintain a consistent grading standard for the year, so students are always aiming at the same target.
- Track progress toward a goal of competence.
- Give students plenty of opportunities to write so a few poor grades don’t count heavily.
- Raise the total point value of writing assignments as you go through the year while giving the same proportional weight to the various writing elements. If you choose to count the content (the ideas, their organization and development) worth 60% of the points, keep that percentage regardless of whether the assignment value is 50 points or 500 points.
- Give some non-grade rewards for improved work, especially if the improvement doesn’t make a big, immediate impact on the grade. I used to staple penny lollipops to papers to recognize improvement. It was trivial and silly, but my college students loved the unexpected surprises.
Have you found something that’s less unsatisfactory than my fall-back position?
A version of this article appeared in Writing Points for October, 2008 ©2008 Linda Aragoni