Don’t Correct Composition Papers; Don’t Grade Them. Read Them!

Correcting Papers

When composition teachers complain they have a pile of papers to correct, they are invoking out-dated assumptions about composition, namely that there is something wrong with our students’ papers, and our primary job is to seek out those errors and eliminate them. Such teachers count fragments like a judge bound by the Three-Strikes-and-You’re-Out Law, condemning a paper that has too many fragments.

Even if the argument is persuasive and the evidence convincing.

Image from Red Ink in the Classroom?

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Do You Have a Pile of Papers to Read? Take a Walk!

IMG_0457As a writing teacher, you have piles of papers to read, and sometimes, believe me I know, it gets overwhelming. It’s a beautiful day outside, but you are stuck in your office. Your back is aching, your hand is cramping, and your mind is reeling.

Do you have a pile of papers to read? Take a walk!

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Reading Papers Takes Too Long? Don’t Read Them (Straight Through)

So, you teach composition, and it takes much, much, much, much, much too long to read papers? You spend your mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends slogging through essays until you are cross-eyed and drooling, your shoulders slumped and your back aching.

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Don’t give feedback like this.

Well, don’t read them–at least not straight through from beginning to end–at least not at first. I recommend going through your stack of papers one by one, looking for a pyramid of priorities. First you look for a thesis statement in all the papers, then topic sentences, and finally evidence, in the form of facts, statistics, names, dates, places, titles, summaries, quotes, and anecdotes. As you check each of these items, make a quick comment in the margin or at the end of the paper or on your rubric. Usually, you will see enough of the grammar and use of source material to make a couple quick suggestions about these as well. You will find that you have written plenty before you read the entire paper.  On the fourth and final round, quickly scan the paper and finish up the comments with something positive and encouraging.

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