Saturday, November 8, 2014

Grading Student Sample Essays

Whoa--I'm actually writing a content-based blog post! I finally have a lazy Saturday morning with nothing planned (our scheduled vet visit got rescheduled, otherwise I would have had to be out the door at 730 this morning!). I feel a cold coming on (boo), and it's a cold, gray day. What I have to look forward to is grading a stack of essays I brought home.

But for now, there's coffee and sweats and Christmas music (shhhh....don't tell on me! I do wait until after Turkey Day to put up decorations).

I wanted to write briefly about something I've started doing primarily with my College English writing course, but that I hope to do with all classes when they write an essay going forward. 

Each year, I set aside some student essays that I could use as samples the following year. For us, it's even easier because we have access to our students' file on the network, so I can just go back in and print their essay off the computer, which I like best, because that way I can change the name and make it anonymous, rather than whiting it out on a hard copy.

I don't just find examples of "A" papers, but rather a variety of ability levels and grades. Before passing them out, I hand out the essay rubric I am using to grade the students' essays and we go over it and what it means to earn a certain score in a category. Then I pass out the anonymous student sample essays. Sometimes, the whole class gets the same one at a time; sometimes, I put them in groups and each group gets a different one. The key is, you DON'T tell them what grade the paper earned ahead of time.

Students (either alone or with partners) read and then analyze the essay. They "grade" it using the rubric you will use to grade their own essays. They come up with a final score, and then I typically have them write a brief paragraph explaining/defending the grade they assigned.

Here is what I have found after doing this probably 15+ times with different groups of kids: They can be BRUTAL graders! I have had student essays that earned a "B" for me failing some of my students' assessments! I usually ask them to sit in groups based on how they graded an essay and then each letter grade group defends their grade. Then I tell them what the essay earned for me and why and we talk about it.

I like doing this for a few reasons:
1) It lets them see MY thought process when assigning a grade to an essay, and they realize a lot of work actually goes into it.
2) They can see an actual student sample essay, rather than just the model essays we read in our textbook.
3) They can start to think critically about writing, pointing out strengths and weaknesses.
4) I always use this to segue into peer response. What usually happens in peer response, is that they don't want to give constructive criticism because they know the person, but they are not afraid to be honest when it's an anonymous essay. This has also made me consider doing anonymous peer review going forward. (Of course, I don't want them being brutally honest/harsh with peers, but too often the responses I see are "looks good" or the like).

It usually takes a couple class periods to do 2-3 student samples, and sometimes I assign it for homework if we're short on time. But I do feel like it helps students grasp what an "A" paper or "B" paper might look like, and they can better understand their own grades when they get papers back.

Do any of you do something similar in your classes? How so?

1 comment:

  1. What a great idea! I really like that you don't tell them the grade it earned ahead of time...brilliant!
    Tales of Teaching in Heels