Types of Response
Evaluative Responses: The Grade
The last category of response to consider is the evaluative response—a response that usually includes (or maybe is summed up in) the grade. Grading student writing can be tricky. Instructors tend to grade student papers focusing primarily on content: Does the student explore his topic fully? Does the student grasp the nuances of the intellectual position he is taking? Is the position presented in the paper adequately supported? If the student has done a good job of dealing with the content end of the paper, he can typically expect high marks from his instructor.
For some instructors, however, a grade on a paper also reflects the student's writing. By "writing," we don't mean simply that all the commas are in the right place and that no modifiers are misplaced or dangling. Rather, we mean that a student has written clearly and eloquently. In order to achieve clarity and eloquence, a student must have a sound and coherent structure, focused and cohesive paragraphs, a solid sense of the sentence, and good grammar. If any of these elements is lacking, the content of the paper also suffers. A poorly developed paragraph, after all, likely mirrors a poorly developed idea. When evaluating a student's paper, consider the ideas and their presentation. In short, make writing count.
Some instructors grade papers by giving two grades: one for the content of a paper, a second for its style. This method allows instructors to reward good thinking without inflating the entire grade. It also allows instructors to motivate a student to address her writing issues: for example, if a student fails to do well in a course because her writing has consistently received a C, she might take her writing problems more seriously. Still, there is a drawback in this method of grading, in that it fosters the notion that form is separate from content. Student writing tends to be stronger when students are convinced that their ideas cannot be good if their expression is poor. Instructors can nurture this understanding by giving a single grade that incorporates both an evaluation of content and an evaluation of form and style.
If the matter of giving a grade is difficult, the matter of receiving a grade is equally hard. The grade, after all, has buried in it a great deal of information about a student's writing. (Think of all the considerations that have gone into grading.) Students often have no way of accessing this information. Why is this paper a "C+"? What does it need in order to become a "B+"? It's important that you give your students a sense of what your grades actually mean.Sometimes instructors provide students with rubrics explaining what their standards for grading are. Other times, instructors will formulate rubrics with their students, so that students can help determine the values and elements of good writing.
As regards grading drafts: Some instructors grade first drafts; most don't. Those who do grade drafts typically use the grade to motivate students, marking first drafts more harshly than final drafts in the hope that students will be moved to revise substantively. Those who don't grade drafts argue that grades distract students from the "real" process of exploring an idea because it's interesting, and not simply because it's required. Learning theorists support the second position, noting that extrinsic rewards are far less effective than intrinsic rewards when it comes to learning.