Friday, September 8, 2017

Paper Grades in English 100

Grading in 100 is unusual in several ways. For one thing, you don't actually get a letter grade in this course—you get a "pass" 👍 or a "no pass" 👎 and neither one affects your Grade Point Average.
Important Note: This does not mean that the course is unimportant or that it doesn't count. It just means that you don't need to obsess about the difference between a B+ and an A-. If you don't pass 100 this time, you won't move on to 101. I'll see you again in 100 in the Spring semester.
Another unusual characteristic, at least for some of you, is that there is no mathematical precision to the grading. Some of you are used to the kind of course where English teachers would need a calculator to grade papers. I'm not doing that. (I once taught at a place where we were supposed to grade 38 separate items for each paper. It was possible to fail the entire course by a comma.)

Instead of counting and calculating, I'm asking the question, "Is this writing any good? How good is it?" I'll give you a class handout which discusses the things I'm looking at, but when I finally get to the end of the process, I ask a very gut-level question. Did this paper have really severe problems that get in the way of communication? (That's a D.) Was it OK, but unremarkable, bland, predictable, and boring? (There's a C.) Pretty good, but still has room for improvement? (That's a B paper.) Or did it really sparkle and provide a good example of what a college freshman should be doing? (That's an A.)

This approach leads to two other conclusions.
  1. Sometimes a student will bring back a paper and say, "I fixed this comma. Can I have a higher grade?" The answer is probably not. The difference between "OK, but unremarkable, bland, predictable, and boring" and "pretty good, but still has room for improvement" is probably not a single comma.
  2. Other students will submit a revision and say, "I made all the punctuation changes you asked for but I didn't do anything else. Can I have a higher grade?" You didn't do any thinking. All you did was to follow my commands, so I deserve a higher grade, but you don't. Again, it's very unlikely that bad punctuation was the only thing that took down the grade.

The wine and sewage example

If you have a barrel of sewage and add a cup of fine French wine, you still have a barrel of sewage.

Oddly enough, if you have a barrel of fine French wine, and you add a cup of sewage, you now have a barrel of sewage.

The point is that if you have a stupid, boring paper (sewage) and the punctuation is wonderful, you still have a stupid, boring paper. But if you have a brilliant, interesting paper with terrible spelling and punctuation, you still don't have a wonderful paper—the sewage of the grammar problems has corrupted the brilliant writing.