Evaluating Writing Performance

The following list of tips are meant to help in the evaluation of student writing, whether that means giving a grade or helping students learn and revise:

  • Draw a distinction between feedback and evaluation:
    • Feedback: Primary purpose is to respond as a reader to students’ work in progress. Comments teach students to improve.
    • Evaluation: Primary purpose is to give a grade. Comments generally justify the grade.
  • Don’t succumb to the temptation to be your students’ editor: Ask yourself if students are learning from the edits you make to their writing or if they simply click on “Accept all changes.”
  • Don’t spend too much time with each paper (lest you succumb to the point above): You should not spend more time responding to a student’s paper than he or she spent writing it!
  • Try to build on the strengths in students’ papers: Consider what the student did well and how revision might be focused on those strengths.
  • Keep in mind what you would like students to apply to the next paper (or the next talk or the next class): Your evaluation can help students learn and apply that learning to subsequent tasks.
  • Consider how the goals for this assignment interact with your course goals: Consider the continuity between what students might learn from this assignment and what you want them to learn from the course as a whole.
  • If grading criteria are clear, grading is easy! Establish grading criteria before students write and share those criteria with students so that they have a tangible target/goal.
  • Use a rubric or scoring guide: With established grading criteria, you can then create a grid showing each criterion, its point value, and space for a comment. Such scoring guides make evaluating writing a much more streamlined process.
  • Read large numbers of papers strategically: Read through your stack of papers and then separate into an upper half and a lower half. Decide the grade range for each half (typically A/B and C/D).
  • Use a model paper as an example of an A+: A model paper, ideally with your annotations to point out what makes it a model, can provide students with a tangible goal.