Responding and Evaluating
Evaluating Short Writings
Peer Evaluation Guide
One way to increase students' writing opportunities without unduly burdening yourself is to use short writings to stimulate class discussion and to prepare for long writings. Some types of short writing include:
Shorter assignments can be evaluated with different strategies from those used for more formal papers.
Shorter assignments, such as those described in "Not Everything Has to be Graded," need not be evaluated as p olished products; they simply help students begin to see the value of writing for clarifying and developing their ideas. To check whether students are writing on the topic of the timed writings, teachers can walk around the room and read over shoulders, ask a few students at random to read theirs aloud, pick up a few to grade or review at random each time, or collect all but read them only to see if most students understand the material.
Few or no comments need be written on any of these writings; teachers can respond with a simple check, plus, or minus, or with a point system. When students turn in extra credit work, engage in personal response writing, or write in journals, the instructor's response might be a +___(points), C/NC (credit, no credit), or a letter grade with comments, such as:
"This really moved our discussion forward. Good beginning. Clarify your ideas in the discussion. I'm not clear how this pertains to the topic."
"+3 Glad you found the film useful for understanding gradualism."
"NC Mark the journal pages you want graded. Feel free to hand it in again (with pages marked) next Friday."
"C+ You gave many hints about the conflict in values between you and your parent, but I remained unsure of its connection with St. Augustine."
When you do grade assignments, remember that you are the expert reader. Teachers' responses as expert readers in their own fields will be the most helpful to students. Every error need not be marked: based on the teacher's goals for a particular assignment, he or she can mark a paper selectively to reflect the student's attainment of those goals. If errors of grammar, punctuation, or mechanics interfere with clear communication, they can be noted simply by circling a few or even by writing an end comment such as, "Your many spelling errors are distracting."
Incorporating ideas from Richard L. Larson's list in Writing in the Academic and Professional Disciplines: A Manual for Faculty. Herbert H. Lehman College (CUNY), 1983.
Criteria for evaluation should emanate from the assignment itself; establish criteria as you design the assignment.
Instructors comment on student papers for several reasons:
The form and length of the comments need to be driven by the purpose of the comments and the use that will be made of them. Comments may be written on a checklist, on a separate sheet of paper, or on the student's paper itself.Tips:
Types Of Comments
Typical comment forms include marginal and summary comments.
Marginal comments are written at the side of the text as annotations. They help point out strengths and weaknesses in argument, ask for clarification, and indicate other views.Tips:
Summary comments appear at the end of the paper or on a separate sheet. They help record your overall impression of the paper, establish how successfully the student addressed the assignment, and point out future goals for the student.Tips:
Content Of Responses
The nature of your responses is likely to vary depending upon what you want the students to do with the comments. If you want students to revise their writing, respond with questions and suggestions that will prompt revision. But questions frustrate students if they are attached to a final paper with no option of revision. Instead, consider responding with remarks that will allow students to see strengths and weaknesses for future application. Jokes, sarcasm, and cynicism are best held in check when commenting on papers.
The amount of commenting varies by individual taste, but, generally, less is more. Students are more likely to benefit from a few carefully chosen comments than from a paper reddened with responses. And, of course, if the responses are illegible, the commenting time is wasted.
Even if they provide excellent guidance through their responding to substantive issues in student papers, teachers are often concerned about their responsibility toward papers that have stylistic flaws. Richard Larson suggests that for discipline-specific writing, the key is to make clear to students that the way they write is integral to what they write and that their work will be evaluated accordingly. Students should be made responsible for the care and accuracy with which they prepare papers in academic courses, and should be led to understand that they will not receive credit in these courses unless their writing is careful and precise.Tips:
Test question: Is the style reasonably clear, free of distracting errors in punctuation and of syntactic features that complicate reading?
Holistic grading involves looking at the paper as an entire document instead of distinguishing content from form. Criteria state what qualities constitute an A, B, C, etc. Like the evaluation criteria, the best time to establish this criteria is prior to grading. Even if you are working from a departmental standard, it is helpful to articulate for yourself what constitutes each letter grade. Writing out your understanding of the criteria insures consistency and provides a useful point of discussion in student conferences.
Some people make a list of the qualities that comprise crucial grading criteria. Here, for example, is what one teacher defined as qualities necessary for an "A" paper: assignment--exceeds expectations; style--clear, concise, direct; control--confident.
This list is useful, but some people are tempted to separate these qualities instead of treating them as collectively necessary for a successful paper. They prefer to write out a description of the paper in a brief paragraph. For example, these qualities in paragraph form might look like this:
Working from such criteria will help you assign letter grades in a consistent fashion, especially if you combine this strategy with stacking papers into A, B, C, etc. piles prior to assigning letter grades. As you flip through the piles, ask: Are these papers similar enough in quality that they should all be in the same pile? This procedure takes a few more minutes, but it improves internal consistency on grades tremendously.
Grading With Checklists
Evaluation sheets or checklists permit:
However, note that some graders find segmenting the paper into specific items counter to their holistic understanding of writing. Others dislike using points that may add up to less or more than the grade the paper seems to merit.
Grading Short Writings
When writing is used to generate discussion, as in the case of in-class writings or microthemes, a simple informal method of evaluation is very effective. "Evaluating Short Writings" discusses grading shorter writing assignments.
Benefits of Peer Evaluations
The role of the peer evaluator is to be an objective reader, to tell the writer how the paper can be improved.
Facilitating Effective Peer Response
When designing a peer evaluation workshop, keep the following suggestions in mind:
Students' Use of Peer Evaluations
It is important to remind students that they have to decide whether and how they will incorporate their peers' suggestions into their papers. They can accept or reject the advice that they are given, and ultimately, each individual writer is responsible for his or her final document. Students should not blindly accept all of the advice given them by their peers; rather, they should weigh all suggestions against the requirements of the assignment and their own sense of their work. Most students will find that they use some of their peers' remarks and disregard others.
Some instructors find evaluation checklists a useful tool in evaluating student essays. For many instructors, a checklist that segments the paper into its component parts allows consistency and efficiency in grading; the overall evaluation of the paper is the sum of the evaluation of each of its parts. Furthermore, checklists can ensure that students are informed about the evaluation process, so that they may more effectively write and revise their papers. Checklists may also be useful for student-instructor debriefing on an assignment because they help establish mutual understanding between student and teacher.
Checklists may take a number of forms, from a list assigning values to the components of a paper, to one that just lists components, allowing space for instructor comments. Whatever checklist is used should emanate from the assignment given, and it should be distributed to students when the assignment is distributed, so that they may use it as a tool to help guide their writing processes.
Many instructors do not like checklists, preferring instead to grade holistically, evaluating the success of the paper as a whole. Some evaluators find that the values they assign to each part do not add up to what they believe the overall evaluation of the paper should be.
Consider these pros and cons along with your natural grading prefernces as you decide what grading approach to use. Whatever approach you adopt will work well if you believe in it, if the grading criteria are driven by the course, if they are arrived at when the assignment is designed, and if they are communicated to the students at the time they receive the assignment.
This checklist is useful both for students and for instructors. Students may use it as they write their papers; instructors may use it to evaluate papers.