Managing and Evaluating Student Writing

You've decided it's important that your students write. It will not only help them maintain or improve their writing skills, but also help them understand and retain course content. However, you may be concerned that you will soon disappear under a mountain of papers. This need not be the case. This page contains some tips and techniques for effectively managing and evaluating student writing, including information on designing and giving assignments, time-saving techniques, providing effective feedback, and types of evaluation.

Designing Assignments

The first step to effective paper-management is designing assignments effectively.

Decide the purpose of the assignment (your objectives for it), make that purpose very clear to your students, and evaluate based on that. Some possible purposes include

  • to understand
  • to synthesize
  • to explain
  • to prove knowledge
  • to demonstrate awareness of terminology/vocabulary

When you first assign the writing let students know how you will evaluate it. For example, you may be most concerned that your students understand terminology specific to your field. Organization of ideas is not as important, nor is "surface correctness" (spelling--except of those terms--grammar, etc). In your assignment, make clear your priorities, and stick to them when grading.

Saving time

Responding to and/or evaluating student writing need not take a great deal of your time.

  • Provide most of your feedback informally as students plan and write, then evaluate the final product quickly.
  • Having conferences with students saves you time and can increase clarity, as they can ask you questions. You can hold quick in-class conferences while students work individually or in groups.
  • Build in other readers before you. Have students receive feedback from their peers; recommend or require that they attend the Writing Center.
  • Not all writing has to be long. Rather than assigning one very long paper, assign several short ones or have them write a series of drafts, of which you read only one. Rather than only requiring "formal" writing, have them do more informal writing which may be used in class, or collected at random.
  • Don't read everything you have your students write. Collect, read and grade their writing randomly.
  • Prioritize . Decide what is most important to you in each assignment (Format? Clarity? Demonstration of knowledge? Audience awareness? Spelling?) and evaluate based on your top priorities.
  • Don't evaluate or comment on everything in a paper; focus your evaluation on two or three aspects that are most important to you (and that you identified as being most important in making the assignment).
  • Don't correct students' errors for them. Point out the most significant shortcomings in the paper (based on your priorities) briefly, then require that they make the corrections.

Effective feedback

  • Give feedback that establishes goals: for further drafts of that paper, in future writing, as a student in your course.
  • Ask questions which will help students clarify and develop their writing to meet the goals you have set.
  • Respond first as reader, rather than as grammarian or grade giver, so students can see what sort of effect their writing had.
  • Phrase suggestions in terms of the particular paper at hand, rather than generalizing. Studies show that students retain applied information about writing better than generalized information.

Types of evaluation

A number of options for evaluating papers exist; evaluating a paper need not involve correcting every surface error and writing voluminous comments at the end.

  • Give separate grades for form and content.
  • Use "performance" grading: if students do the assignment, they get credit (or points). You make no value judgments about the quality of the work, merely decide what's an acceptable amount of work.
  • Use "impression marking:" scan the paper and mark it based on your general impression of paper's effectiveness. Again, have a clear set of criteria in mind--or even written down--as you read.
  • Use portfolio evaluation: rather than evaluating individual papers, evaluate a student's entire output at the end of the course.
  • Evaluate based strictly on clearly defined criteria, which may be set out in the form of:
    • Contracts: you create a contract which spells out how much work and/or what sort must be done to receive a particular grade. The student chooses what grade to work for.
    • Checksheets: you list the criteria for an acceptable piece of work and evaluate based on how many criteria are met.
    • Scales: rank a student's work based on your criteria. Analytic and Dichotomous are just two of a variety of scales; examples are below.
Sample Analytical Scale
    low       high
General Merit Ideas 2 4 6 8 10
  Organization 2 4 6 8 10
  Wording 1 2 3 4 5
Mechanics Spelling & Punctuation 1 2 3 4 5
  Grammar & Usage 1 2 3 4 5
  Format 2 4 6 8 10
Comprehension Understanding of Terms 2 4 6 8 10
  Application of Concepts 2 4 6 8 10
Total Score:            
Sample Dichotomous Scale
  Yes No  
Content ___ ___ Ideas are insightful
  ___ ___ Ideas are original
  ___ ___ Ideas are logical
  ___ ___ Ideas are clearly expressed
Organization ___ ___ There is a thesis
  ___ ___ Thesis is adequately developed
  ___ ___ Each paragraph is developed with concrete and relevant details
Mechanics ___ ___ Many misspellings
  ___ ___ Awkward sentences