Writing in First-Year Seminars

Integrating Writing

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Determining Grades

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Even when we manage to focus our marginal and end comments on overall goals promoting students' growth as writers, our students' most immediate concern will often be their grades. We might become hung up on this letter or number as well, as we attempt to translate our carefully constructed comments into a grade.

It will help us to start with an idea of what an A paper, a B paper, a C paper, and so on will look like. We might create our own evaluation sheets or rubrics, or use one of those available in the sample materials section. However, we should observe a caveat in using these resources: Evaluation sheets and rubrics are not meant to replace marginal and end comments, and they are not foolproof. They should be general enough to accommodate all the variations we might encounter in students' writing.

However we choose to determine grades, it's important to communicate with students how their writing will be evaluated. Whether or not we are using a criteria sheet, students should know the general criteria upon which we will base our evaluations. On the other hand, it might be best to avoid distributing detailed rubrics as these can involve students in a numbers game when we want them to concentrate on writing. If we choose to use a rubric, we might decide to keep the numbers to ourselves and simply to inform students of the major writing skills we intend to evaluate.

The skills we evaluate should correspond to the goals communicated in the original assignment description. If the goal of an assignment is to practice writing a convincing argument, our evaluation will assess students' claims, their development of those claims, and the quality of the evidence they've used as support. Likewise, classroom instruction surrounding the assignment will emphasize these skills and provide additional opportunities to practice them.

Note: Letter grades are generally preferable to number grades in evaluating writing assignments, as it is difficult and often inappropriate to quantify writing skills. Because an A, a B, a C, and so on will represent a range of proficiency levels, we will have greater incentive as instructors to articulate in our comments our specific concerns for each writer.

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