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Teachers who use writing projects are often intimidated by the grading required. In the first of two episodes, Meg Morgan talks about strategies she uses to respond to and assess student writing.
Welcome to Teaching and Learning Matters. This is Meg Morgan, Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and a Faculty Associate with the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Today, in this first of two episodes, I am going to talk about some strategies you can use on how to respond to and assess student writing.
As teachers who use writing projects in our classes, we are often intimidated by the grading that these assignments require. We often think that we must grade everything in the assignment and that we must grade it with very ounce of our being.
Not true. One way to look at student writing is as a practice, and while we can expect their writing to be perfect, in fact, it only gets better but never gets perfect. And our job as teachers is to help it get better and better, through the semester, so that at the end it is better than it was at the beginning. Not perfect.
A second way to looking at assessment is this: assessment cannot be separated from the goals of the assignment. So when you design the assignment you have to also design how you are going to assess it.
So, no matter what the assignment, first figure out what you want the student to demonstrate through the writing; second, design an assignment that forces them to demonstrate that, and, finally, assess how well they have accomplished that goal. You don’t have to assess everything - just what you want them to demonstrate.
We can assign informal writing assignments to test simple concepts or ideas. Students can write out responses to an in-class prompt, for example: “Why can you only fit 20 angels on the head of a pin?” Collect the response and give it a check, check plus, or check minus based on whether or not they have accomplished your goal. They have written something, and you have tested their knowledge.
Many of us who use writing in our classes design more complex and formal writing assignments. We want them to learn through writing not just to demonstrate that they have learned something. We want them to learn disciplinary-based research strategies, so we ask them to do research to see what others have written about a subject. We want them to design and write disciplinary-specific proposals, reports, reviews, programs, etc. We want them to explore a personal experience and then relate that experience to something they have learned or read in our class.
Assessing those projects requires exactly the same process as the simpler assignment, however. We have to know what we want them to accomplish through that writing, teach them how to accomplish it, and then grade them on how well they did accomplish it.
Thanks for listening. Be sure to join me for the second episode on assessing writing.
And remember, Teaching and Learning Matters.
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