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How to edit and grade writing | Grading high school papers

Grading high school papers intimidates many homeschoolers. Here are six ways to help you be more objective when evaluating student writing assignments.

Part 1: How to Edit and Grade Writing | Editing High School Papers

One of the hardest parts of teaching writing is knowing how to evaluate a paper. It seems like such risky business—a subjective effort characterized by inconsistency and wild guesses. Last week we might have let an error slip by, yet this week we’ll red-pencil that same mistake with a vengeance.

One thing is certain: Arbitrary grading will never help your student become a better writer.

Homeschooling moms are always relieved to learn that parts of writing can be quantified. Sure, there will always be judgment calls about clarity, content, and organization. But here’s the good news: when you’re able to give a grade based on (mostly) measurable standards, your confidence will soar!

I learned to grade papers by trial, error, and necessity when I first began teaching writing. Many years and hundreds of papers later, those methods have proved solid and reliable—and I’m confident they’ll help you’ll feel more prepared.

1. Use an Evaluation Form

If you’re anything like I used to be, you worry about under- or overcorrecting. You make stabs in the dark. Your daughter’s paper may “feel” like a B, but when she asks why she didn’t get an A, you don’t have a good answer. You simply don’t know how to tackle that final draft.

But guess what? You’ll be miles ahead when you use a rubric that helps you grade objectively.

This can be:

  • A rubric that comes with your writing program, such as the WriteShop I and II composition (and essay) evaluation forms;
  • printable grading form you find online; or
  • One you create yourself using the assignment’s standards.

2. Tell Students What to Anticipate

Before they start writing their rough drafts, teens should already know what you’ll be looking for along the way. That way, there won’t be any bombshells when they get their final grade—a grade determined not by your random whims, but by how well they met the expectations of the lesson.

3. Expect Progress

You edit earlier drafts and grade final drafts.

Remember: most student’s papers will be much better by the end because they’ve been revised and rewritten at least twice. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the final drafts score consistently well. Your goal is mastery, so it’s natural to see progress and improvement from draft to draft!

4. Know What to Look For

GRADE FOR CONTENT

The meat of a paper is its content, which you grade according to subject matter, substance, argument, evidence, logic, or other relevant criteria.

If this is an essay, also include an evaluation of the thesis statement. In one or two sentences, the thesis should state the essay topic, give the purpose of the essay, and suggest the main points that will be developed in the paragraphs that follow.

A typical writing assignment goes through each of these stages:

Not every paper must jump through these hoops. For the learning experience of proper writing, only one paper at a time needs to go through the entire writing process. For example, a book report, science article, biography, literature essay, or history report might be evaluated on content alone.

GRADE FOR STYLE AND ORGANIZATION

When grading a paper’s style, look at the kinds of words and sentences your student has used. Style can include concreteness, conciseness, sentence variety, tense agreement, and voice.

An effective essay is also unified and well organized. Each paragraph in the body of the paper should begin with a topic sentence telling the main point of the paragraph. In a persuasive essay, each paragraph should begin with a sentence that makes a claim. The body of that paragraph, then, should support the claim with examples, facts, and logic. The more solid the content, the higher the grade you can assign.

A fictional story or narrative will be organized in a different way, but it should still flow well from start to finish. For a stronger grade, this kind of prose should follow the five stages of storytelling.

GRADE FOR MECHANICS

Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence completeness fall under the heading of mechanics. A high-scoring paper will be free (or nearly free) of mechanical errors.

Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, or misplaced modifiers will count against the final score, while using parts of speech and punctuation marks accurately and making sure words are correctly spelled will contribute to a higher grade.

5. Assign Points

Ah, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? How do you decide how many points to give? There are many ways to assign/deduct points, such as:

100-POINT NARRATIVE

  • Content can include paragraph unity and development, subject matter, use of details and examples (40 points)
  • Style can include voice, readability and sentence fluency, sentence variety, vocabulary, conciseness (40 points)
  • Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (20 points)

100-POINT ESSAY

  • Content can include thesis, development of main points with facts and examples, topicality, conclusion (45 points)
  • Style can include organization, clarity/fluency, sentence style and complexity, parallelism, vocabulary, use of transitions (45 points)
  • Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (10 points)

6. Take Attitude into Consideration

When bad behavior persists from beginning to end—even if the paper itself has improved—you’re well within your rights to give consequences. So if your teen’s attitude has been just awful throughout the entire writing process (e.g., unwillingness to brainstorm thoroughly, disrespect for deadlines, refusal to accept feedback or make changes), take this into account when giving points.

7. Be Flexible and Fair

What happens when you find mistakes in the final draft? As a rule, don’t penalize students for mistakes they weren’t told about earlier in the editing process. If you happened to miss something during parent editing (and therefore failed to bring it to your teen’s attention), he can only assume what he’s written is correct.

Let’s say, for example, that you didn’t catch an awkwardly written sentence in an earlier draft—but it jumps out at you in the final. As you’re grading, you might let that one slide. Point out the error, certainly, but assure him you’re not penalizing him for your earlier oversight. Kids always appreciate fairness!

On the other hand, if he’s simply careless with spelling or punctuation, or he writes a sentence fragment when he clearly knows better, you’re within your rights to deduct points accordingly.

Finally, if you’ve discussed the paper and identified ways to improve it—and the final draft reflects many positive changes—give full points whenever possible (along with kudos, of course!).

Grading high school papers doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start small. Be consistent. Cheer your kids on. I know you’ll get the hang of it!

Printable Writing Prompt for July

What do hot dogs, passports and sunglasses have in common? Your story! Use your imagination and craft a summer caper with the words included in the word bank. We would love to hear what you come up with!

July Printable Writing Prompt from WriteShop

Click the image above to download the prompt. If you would like to share this prompt with others, link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file. Feel free to print this PDF file for your own personal use. Please do not sell or host these files anywhere else.

Here’s a link to June’s printable writing prompt, and be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

*If you are having trouble printing this file, try downloading it to your computer, opening it back up and then print it.

In Our Write Minds: 2010 in review

Do you ever wonder if your writing makes a difference?

As I blog about teaching writing, the thought crosses my mind from time to time: Do I offer anything of substance to weary homeschooling moms of reluctant writers? Do my tips and ideas bring encouragement and fresh insight? Am I making a difference at all?

This morning, I learned about Musings of a Housewife Jo-Lynne’s 2010 Blog Recap Carnival and decided to take up the challenge. As I copied and pasted the first line from each post, I came away confident that my words do matter, and In Our Write Minds does have an impact within my little sphere of influence.

So . . . on this first Monday of 2011, let’s recap the first blog post of each month during 2010 (or the second post, if the first one was a contest or promotion). I’m hoping you’ll find a nugget of encouragement along the way.

~Kim

January

Sometimes, your teen’s opposition to writing has nothing at all to do with laziness, procrastination, perfectionism, or confidence—and everything to do with relevance.

February

No matter the curriculum, whether math, penmanship, or writing, picking the best starting level for your child can challenge the most seasoned homeschooler—especially when said child doesn’t exactly fit a grade-specific mold.

March

Every single day, almost without fail, the poetry lessons draw more folks to this blog than any other article (with the two most frequently accessed posts being Writing a Diamante Poem and Cinquain Poetry). 

April

Concreteness transports us into a story like nothing else.

May

I love the deliciousness of certain words—the way something as ordinary as chocolate can take on an entire new personality when dressed up with adjectives like warm, rich, thick, gooey, chilled, creamy, or frothy.

June

“Summertime … and the livin’ is easy.”

July

The 4th of July is right around the corner, and if you’re looking for some writing activities to occupy your children in preparation for celebrating Independence Day, this jam-packed, colorful, patriotic word list is sure to inspire some great stories.

August

When assigning writing to your children, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel with a brand-new lesson.

September

In generaral, I hope his concrete work is better than his spelling.

October

I hear it all the time: We’re having self-editing issues.

November

Do your older children have a hard time thinking of what to give a younger sibling for a birthday or Christmas gift?

December

Your on? Wow. I’m struck dumb every time I see a sign or ad like this.

 

Out with the old, in so many words

new adj.

original

unspoiled

novel

fresh

unfamiliar

cutting-edge

improved

untouched

pristeen

unused

beckoning

untried

refreshed

 

. . . . .

Happy New Year! May 2011 be the best and brightest for you and yours.

~Kim

 

Thankful in so many words

thank · ful  adj.

appreciative

grateful

content

beholden

indebted

cheerful

obliged

satisfied

overwhelmed

at peace

pleased

glad

comfortable

A man, a plan, and a Sharpie

If you follow this blog at all, you know how much I love to find a good typo: a misplaced apostrophe, crazy spelling error, or grammar faux pas. Just take a little stroll down Bad Signage Lane for some great examples of English language abuse.

So imagine my delight at discovering this little gem of an article: A Man, a Plan, and a Sharpie. I’ll admit that Jeff Deck actually did what I would LOVE to be able to do—correct mispunctuated or illogical signs. I’m just not as bold.

I applaud his gumption!

Thanks to my friend and fellow communications buff JoJo for the link.

Where’s Kim?

If you’re a regular reader here at In Our Write Minds, you may wonder why I’m not posting as regularly as I normally do. I thought I’d give you a little peek into the goings-on around here so you’ll understand.

It’s crazy mode at my house for the next few weeks as we prepare to host a wedding reception for our son and his new bride.

Because their wedding took place in England last summer, very few friends and family on this side of the pond were able to attend, so we’re looking forward to our California celebration.

We’re also excited to spend some time with the two of them—a true luxury, now that we’re an ocean apart. We have a wonderful—albeit full—couple of weeks ahead of us!

I’m finding it hard to squeeze in much writing time, between baking dozens and dozens of cookies, planning all the details for the party, and preparing to speak at a homeschool convention on April 10. If time permits, I’ll do my best to post a few articles between now and the reception. Otherwise, at least you’ll know what’s become of me.

Thanks for understanding!

~Kim

Christmas wishes

As our family celebrates the birth of Christ, we extend our warmest holiday wishes to each of you. May this season be one of joy in your hearts, and may 2010 be merry and bright in every way!

Happy writing,
Kim

Christmas wishes

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.”

–Isaiah 9:6

O Come, O Come

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Photo public domain. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech via pingnews.

This our hymn of grateful praise

For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

Happy Thanksgiving from Writeshop!

—Kim

Photo: Ecstaticist / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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