Grading Papers

As an English teacher, I have always disliked grading student papers. One:  it is time-consuming work, especially because I write comments on each one.  Two:  I have difficulty judging exactly what makes an “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D,” as I need to consider the idea, structure, grammar, vocabulary, etc. in a bundle.  Three: grades do not offer very helpful feedback, beyond approval or disapproval.  They seem to say, “Don’t risk!  Do what I tell you to do, so that you will be rewarded with a good grade.”  I’d rather see students experiment and feel good about the writing process.  Then, I’d like to see them edit extremely well and take pride in their finished product, regardless of how it compares to their classmates’ work, i.e., whether it would earn a “C” or an “A.”

When I tutor students, I have the luxury of never placing a grade atop their pages.  We discuss what we like about their papers and work on what needs improvement.  I hope that it is an encouraging and less judgmental process than the one I had in my classroom.  Some parents ask me how I judge each student’s progress without standardized tests.  I keep a notebook of each student’s finished writing, so that we can observe the changes over time.  I don’t need to give a score.


Good writing requires experimentation. In the Slice of Life challenge, I have experimented with topics and genres.  As a result, I have felt eager to share some of my pieces.  Other ones, I have hoped that people would skip.  One, I posted for 10 hours and then deleted.

In truth, I believe that all of life is an experiment.  We do not have to lock ourselves into one way of doing things and constantly seek approval – that comparative “A.”  Instead, we muddle along and try our best in each situation; sometimes we hit dead ends, sometimes things work out in part, and occasionally, we get the results we were looking for.  Each attempt, though, is valuable, as long as we keep learning from it.

It’s easy to be philosophical about failure and success, but, of course, failure is still disappointing, to say the least.  However, thinking of life as an experiment removes the aspect of judging oneself for the failed efforts; they are simply part of the process of learning.

So, saying, I’ll post another piece of writing, another experiment.  It’s not quite finished; I’d like to elaborate and edit it more, but time is limited and I need to move on.  Isn’t it that way for our students too?

6 thoughts on “Grading Papers

  1. Yes! Good writing does require experimentation. I almost never have time for students to engage in writing outside of the curriculum which is formal, but I try to make time for it in creative ways. I think it’s great to have students engaging in different types of writing and practicing different techniques.

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  2. “…all of life is an experiment.” That is TRUTH. Funny, I wrote a bit about this same topic tho’ came at it from a different angle. Exploration’s the thing. This post fits perfectly with where I am and what I’m thinking today. Thanks!

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  3. Like you, I struggle with grading. I want to encourage students, honor their hard work and risk taking. And yet the grade thing hangs over my head. And proficiency, especially right now when they are a week from test taking. AARGH!

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  4. Grading is so so hard but you take the time to comment, and the comments are what really help the students, I believe. I often don’t, I am ashamed to say. I should do much more of that kind of giving meaningful feedback.
    I just read a post about a favorite teacher- her Arabic teacher in college. This teacher was kind and encouraging in this difficult subject, and would give you back your exam paper over and over to “recheck, this section…”. She ended up in trouble for giving too good grades. But this teacher writing loved her, did her best work for her, and thinks on her example often. Ah, what a world.

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  5. I appreciate your post. You raise valuable concerns and highlight important points. I enjoy reading my third graders work for evidence of what they are doing. This Workshop approach has made “grading” written work more positive and fun! But it is still very time consuming!

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  6. Feedback and response help writers, but I don’t think grades ever do. I use portfolios and contract grading in most of my classes, and I find that they work very well to get me out of the vicious cycle of grading. Responding still takes a ton of time though!

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