Friday, February 26, 2010

Grading Secrets: How to Raise Your Grade

Here is a secret about grading: I want my students to do well.

Grading is not a mysterious, subjective process. To give you some background, here is my process: In all of my writing classes, students hand in rough drafts and then final drafts. I fill out a rubric and offer customized notes to each student on each draft. I want them to learn that writing is a process that requires many drafts. I spend hours reading drafts, looking at earlier drafts and responding to the papers. I expect students to read my comments and respond to them with either questions or revised drafts.

Your grades reflect your work. When students email me to thank me for a grade, I respond and tell them that they earned the grade. I don’t give gifts in the form of grades.

I don’t give good grades because I like a student more. I don’t give bad grades because I disagreed with the politics of a subject. I don’t give a certain number of As, Bs, Cs, Ds or Fs because there is a grade quota that I must fulfill. I promise, I read your papers. Don’t include foul language checking to see if I’m reading your papers or “subliminal messages” because I’ll find them.

Here are a few hints about how you can immediately raise a grade in any class:

Follow the instructions. If the assignment asks for a paper to be a certain length, fulfill it. Don’t turn in a paper that is too short. If you find yourself writing a much longer paper, edit it down. It is often easier to write a meandering paper. Show your ability to write by fulfilling the page or word count.

Respond to the rough draft comments offered by the professor. Don’t miss this opportunity to fulfill the assignment’s requirements. If your professor asks you to write in the third person and you wrote in the first person on the rough draft, revise your paper appropriately. I can’t tell you how many times I write on a final draft, “Similar to the rough draft, your paper still…” If your professor spent time sharing suggestions with you, why not follow them? If the professor wrote suggestions that do not move the argument in the direction that you intended, perhaps your paper isn’t fully supporting the argument you had in mind. In this case, it is a good idea to revisit your argument and discuss the issue with your professor.

Spell check your paper. It is simple to use your word processor to edit your paper for spelling and grammar errors. If you see a red or green line under a word or phrase, look at it again. The computer makes mistakes. It can’t know your intentions and is sometimes wrong, but it is a starting point. With the technology we have available to us, it is inexcusable to hand in a paper with spelling errors.

Revise your paper. Do not hand in a final draft that is identical to the rough draft.

Credit your sources and avoid plagiarism at all costs. Professors can easily spot when a sentence or paragraph is written by someone else. The voice, tone and language change. If you can Google a subject and find information to cut and paste into your paper, we can cut and paste the suspicious line and find it too.

In college-level classes, don’t quote from Wikipedia, traditional encyclopedias, dictionaries or Spark Notes. You can do better than that. Look for primary sources in your library database. Consider the merits of your sources before you quote from them. Sure, you can look at Wikipedia or a dictionary as you are writing a paper. Use these general resources to help you become familiar with the subject. Then, follow the links to the primary sources and use those.

If you have the opportunity to revise a paper for a higher grade, why not do that? Be familiar with the syllabus that should outline the possibilities. Not only will your grade rise, but you will learn from the rewrite and the professor will remember how much work you are putting in to the class.

By fulfilling the basic requirements of the assignment and paying attention to previous feedback, the professor can offer you a more in-depth response to your paper. Let your professors help you and focus on the subject matter. Yes, then you’ll find yourself with a higher grade. The grade represents your hard work and what you’ve learned.

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