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Did you ever get a grade on a paper that you just did not understand? Not even necessarily just a big red “F.” Have you ever gotten a paper with the most random ass numerical grade assigned to it? Can you please explain to me why my paper is a 74? Or even a 95?

I’m sure I am not the only person who has been faced with this dilemma. There is a seemingly randomly assigned number to your paper with no explanation of why it merits that grade. I’m sure the professor (hopefully) had some sort of grading system or structure they used to reach that magic number. But the problem is that that system isn’t always shared with the students. In some cases, it might not even be that.


Rubrics

There are some benefits to not using a rubric to grade writing, such as that it gives the student a more personalized and fair assessment of their own thoughts and ideas as opposed to a standardization. While in the past I have made clear my thoughts on standardization in writing, when it comes to rubrics I would disagree that they are a method of standardizing. I think of them as more of guidelines for me the professor to read your paper with.

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“How Does My Flow Look?”

In my adventures in the Writing Center, I’ve heard students raise the question of their flow many times and in many ways, including: “Is my flow okay?” “I want you to look at my flow?” “What do you think of my flow?”

Are We Okay? Case Study: 365 Days

Hearing that question so many times, I started to wonder why students kept saying it. What do they think it means? And why are they so concerned about it.

The answer is quite simple. Although there is a clear definition of what it means for your paper to flow well, students do not understand that. They are asking about it because some obscure paper they once wrote got low marks and probably had the word flow written somewhere in the comments or even on their rubric with absolutely no context. This is part of why having a well-written rubric with detailed directions will help our students. The University of Lincoln-Nebraska Writing Center emphasizes the need for being specific about the types of feedback you are giving: “The type of feedback given on any task should depend on the learning goals you have for students and the purpose of the assignment.”

To this point, the type of rubric that I would want to include in my classroom is the Analytic Rubric, which “breaks down the characteristics of an assignment into parts, allowing the scorer to itemize and define exactly what aspects are strong, and which ones need improvement” (Gonzalez). What I like about this rubric style is that it breaks down the main areas that I am looking for in grading each paper. I think this is beneficial because it will keep me on track and make sure that I am looking at the same thing in every paper.

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There are several advantages to using an analytic rubric, but one advantage that I like is that I can choose what it is I want to focus on. Meaning: I don’t have to talk about the student’s flow. To me, that is far too broad and, in my times of tutoring, I can confidently tell you that, even after explaining flow and providing examples, a lot of students still don’t know what that means. Now, we as writers and instructors might guffaw or chortle at this. Those silly students how can they not have good flow? But, we also have to remember that not everyone has a writer’s brain, so that might not come naturally to them. I can, however, focus on things that I think are important that may fall into flow. (BTW, I am totally putting in italics every time to mock it. That is how much I hate hearing that word) These include a well-structured paper, connecting thoughts back to the thesis statement, following the thesis statement points as they are written, and restating the purpose in the conclusion. Those are all flow, but I can actually show you where your thesis statement is written incorrectly and point it out to you.

Like every pedagogical strategy that my counterparts and I have examined this semester, there are also cons to an analytical rubric. One disadvantage that was mentioned in our readings as well as in other sources that I’ve found on the subject is that students will not read the entirety of an analytical rubric. “Facing a 36-cell table crammed with 9-point font is enough to send most students straight into a nap,” says Jennifer Gonzalez in her blog. But I disagree that this disadvantage is restricted only to analytical rubrics. The fact of the matter, we could hand every student a bullet point list that says things like “Write your Thesis Statement HERE: ________” where they are literally just filling in the blanks to get an A, and some of them still won’t read it. Although I will admit that I do not read every single square going into a paper that has an analytical rubric. I read what is in the A columns first and aim for those. But when I get the paper back, I absolutely read what is written in the boxes I received.


Things to Think About…

There are many ways to grade a paper. One could even argue that there are some benefits to just writing a seemingly random at the top of the student’s paper and calling it a day. But what do you guys think? What grading styles will you include in your class room?


Works Cited

“Assessing Student Writing.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln, https://www.unl.edu/writing/assessing-student-writing#rubrics. Accessed 28 Feb. 2021

Gonzalez, Jennifer. “Know Your Terms: Holistic, Analytic, and Single-Point Rubrics.” Cult of Pedagogy, https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/holistic-analytic-single-point-rubrics/. Accessed 2 April 2021.

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