Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Lori here...reminiscing...

Nine years ago, right around this time, I sat sprawled out on my living room floor with shameful mounds of papers surrounding me. My hair was in a frizzy bun. A colored pen was jammed behind my right ear. Another colored pen seemed to fly through my frazzled hand as I made my way through the stacks. Grades were due the next day, and I had convinced myself that I had to touch, comment upon, and grade Every. Single. Piece. of paper that students had submitted to me. I truly felt like anything less was a disservice to my kids. Oh...poor little baby me. How naive.

I remember walking in the next day with dark circles under my eyes. Near tears, I asked another teacher how she handled it all. How did she get her grades in early?! Her response? You're doing too much! I remember feeling so insulted. How could I be doing too much? Wasn't I was doing exactly what kids needed?

Oh...I'm making myself tired just thinking about sweet little 20-something me...


 by Zemelman and Daniels. 1988.
Here's the real deal and what I've learned about grading as an English teacher. First of all, there is tons of research to suggest that writing comments on students' papers is a fruitless endeavor. Here are some of my favorite quotes on a chapter about evaluating writing in a book by Steven Zemelman and Harvey Daniels. The book is older. It was published in 1988! But...it is full of goodness. I promise. 

  • "To us [English teachers], intensive correction is the standard, responsible, professional way of responding to a piece of imperfect student work" (205).
  • "And what other teachers expect everyone else to feel so sorry for them because of their overwhelming paper load" (206)? That one hurts a little, but I like it.
  • "But English teachers try to rate students on the standards of adult, polished, professional, public prose, a standard that is impossibly daunting--and inaccurate, if we consider the fact that real professional writers actually get a lot more collaborator assistance in polishing their work than kids do in school" (207). Please let that one sink in, friends.
  • "Intensively marked papers often give too much feedback" (211). Heavens part and angels descend...how lovely.
If you're bogged down in grading, how can you change your practices? I love these practical ideas and bits of wisdom taken from the same text. 
  • "Students get fuller writing practice if you assign more first-draft writing than you could possibly evaluate" (231). You're off the hook!
  • Grade looking for a primary trait that is "focused on just one aspect of a piece of writing" (233). I have often graded just the thesis statement and the specificity of an example--especially if that is where my instruction was heavily focused. 
  • "If we care deeply about our subject and our kids, we are frequently in danger of burning out." Preach.
I truly hope this post finds you well, especially as many of you begin to wrap up grades for the first grading period. Take it easy. Grade in ways that count...for you and your students. 

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