As an English teacher, you’re required to grade writing assignments. There’s no skirting that chore. Still, when you stare at a nine-inch stack of questionably-written compositions waiting for your editing pen, it’s tempting to wrap them in a carpet, bind it, dump it in the nearest river and skip town.
Burn your records. Change your name. Live life on the run.
Let’s call that “Plan B.” For the time being, let’s try a plan that won’t leave your loved ones holding your picture on the evening news.
First, there will come a time when a holistic grading approach will be necessary – such as final exams, state standard tests and times when you decide you’re going to expect near perfection. But, realistically, learning to write well is a step-by-step process. Why should grading be any different?
During the first grading period, depending on your grade level, you might teach the parts of a complete sentence (subject and predicate) along with the concepts of complete sentences versus fragments and run-ons. At the same time, you might work on something slightly more advanced, such as using vivid words (tiptoed, stomped, marched, strolled, strutted) instead of mundane words (walked). When a writing assignment comes along, focus on those areas.
Of course, you should grade it based on the important writing traits – organization, ideas, voice, etc. – but don’t worry about searching out every tiny flaw like a forensic pathologist searching for traces of DNA. Correct those concepts that have been taught and should be put into use. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out obvious errors to avoid future problems, but don’t mark and count off for not using a comma in a compound sentence if that student has never even heard the words “compound sentence” come out of your mouth. It’s not just unfair – it’s going to drive you crazy.
As the year goes on and more concepts are introduced, your grading load shouldn’t be that much heavier – not if students have been able to focus on those specific problems and wipe them out. Grade the concepts you’ve covered and have faith that all else will fall into place. If a student’s writing is brimming with errors, jot a note to see you personally. Recommend that they attend your tutorials. One-on-one attention is probably necessary.
Finally, once you’ve corrected an error, don’t develop carpal tunnel correcting it throughout the paper. If a student misspelled “the” as “teh,” chances are they’ve done it throughout the paper. Tell your students that a misspelling is only corrected once, and that they are responsible for correcting the identical (or similar) errors that remain. If students are making mistakes out of laziness, correct it as described, then give it back to them to edit and re-write – along with a worksheet on that concept.
After all, few early lessons are as powerful and easy to get across as, “It’s easier to do it right the first time than to have to re-do it.”