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Mauri Gowans

Dr. Kelly-Riley

English 501

12 July 2017

A Year of Writing: Rationale

It is a recognized fact throughout many educational communities that grading is

detrimental to a students learning. In Liesel K. OHagans article, Its Broken--Fix It!, she

describes the problem. She asserts that, ...studies as early as 1912 questioned the validity of

grading, suggesting that in writing instruction, in particular, grades were far too subjective

(4). She also says that soon after it was found that ...grades were not a reliable measure of

student achievement (4). Unfortunately, there doesnt seem to be a perfect solution to the

issue of grading, especially the grading of writing. Many experts have tried and have come up

with some worthwhile questions and tactics. In the introduction to the book Alternatives to

Grading Student Writing, Stephen Tchudi writes about the authors of the chapters that

...none of the writers has found or claims to have found that perfect system, but everyone

represented in this book is working at it constantly, as, I suspect, are the readers who pick up

this volume (xi). My goal is to join that group of readers. In an effort to make positive

changes to my own writing curriculum and grading procedure, I am going to employ a

combination of delayed grading, contract grades, and portfolio assessment.

To find a working system, its important to analyze the current one to understand

what improvements need to be made and what precautions need to be taken. One problem I

believe is commonly faced in my own situation is the belief students have that they are

failures. OHagan says, Once a student is identified as a failure, the continuing experience

with failure lowers motivation. This process of labeling a child a failure begins and ends
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with grades (5) OHagan quotes William Glasser and points out that he says this starts at a

very young age. Students learn quickly to expect nearly immediate, arbitrary judgement on

whatever they have created. This creates the effect of lack of worth and hopelessness in

achieving goals. It also means that high school students have been trained not to try. They

have learned to place themselves in grade categories and not to try to rise above that. They

also fail to see the value in assignments guiding learning and simply want to know how to get

the best grade.

Grades also cause problems for traditionally marginalized groups of people, such as

minorities, females, and students for whom English is their second language. There is

disagreement about what takes precedence in writing assessment--is it the grammar, ideas,

organization, voice, or the fact that the assignment was turned in on time? Those students

who are already at a disadvantage because they may not have grown up using Standard

English are often judged harshly for their grammar and organization while their ideas might

be right on track. Valerie Balester writes that rubrics can contribute to this problem when

they are used to ...oversimplify and standardize writing, thus failing a significant segment of

our student population, namely, students of color or students whose first language is not

always Edited American English (65). One way to assuage this problem is to use grading

contracts. Students are given credit for practicing, thereby producing more clear writing with

less opportunity to be labeled as a failure. Asao B. Inoue says that contracts are ...more

effective for students who are predisposed to seeing--or can be convinced to view--grades a

unhelpful, destructive, or harmful to their learning (93). By allowing students more of a

choice in their grade and making expectations clear, students who are unaccustomed to

success in writing are more able to see the positive effects grading contracts.
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While the problems with grades have long been recognized, they are not often

challenged. Our current education system relies on grades in a way that would be difficult to

undo. Because of this, it is important for classroom teachers to strike a balance between

required grades, positive learning experiences, and cultivating good writing.

For my project, I wanted to do something that would be helpful for both my

classroom and the rest of my English department. I decided to create some guidelines and a

portfolio plan that I plan to use in my teaching, but that could be easily adapted to other grade

levels. I chose the four types of writing from the Idaho State Standards and put together some

resources for each. Of course, these four genres can be written in many forms. In my class, I

plan to increase the amount of dialogic writing, and also the amount of informal writing that

students do on a daily basis. Marcy Bauman says, ...I am determined that all the writing my

students do will be dialogic...because I believe that those uses of writing illustrate most

clearly what writing is for and why people do it (168). She also lists four qualities I think

should be present in writing prompts: choice, challenge, control, and collaboration (167). For

me, this will involve incorporating a lot more student choice and a search for authentic

audiences. Most of this writing will fall within the four categories of informative, argument,

narrative, and research.

All prewriting and drafting will be graded on a contract system--if a student

completes the assignment, he or she will be given full credit. During the drafting stage,

students will peer edit. When they have a draft ready for me to look at, I will look at it and

make comments only. At the end of the semester, each student will choose one paper from

each genre and use the resources I will provide to make it as good as it possibly can be. I will

then use the portfolio guidelines posted on my website taken from Kathleen Jones in
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Portfolio Assessment as an Alternative to Grading Student Writing to assess the students

final work. That grade will be part of the students summative grade.

I believe this increases the fairness and validity for writing assessment. This system is

better able to provide more accommodations for those students who need it. Page

requirements can be easily adjusted for students with special needs, and because I will be

reading drafts and only making comments, not only will students have more opportunity to

learn and grow, but I will have a chance to evaluate the students understanding and adjust

assignments as needed. Because I have students who dont speak English, this process can

help me to give them a chance to practice in a low pressure environment and lots of time to

work with a translator so that they are getting the best information. The portfolio also adds an

element of student choice, meaning they will hopefully take more of an interest in the


As validity relates to the way scores are used, not just the test itself, I believe the way

I plan to grade writing will help in that department. Practice grades (formative assessment)

will be 40% of the students grade and will be based solely on completion. Evidence of

learning (summative assessment) will be 60% of the students grade and will be made up of

the portfolio grade as well as other summative assessments we will do throughout the year,

including our required end-of-course assessments. Im not worried about students failing the

portfolio because they will have plenty of time and guidance in creating their best work. I am

going to require them to include drafts to emphasize the importance of growth and learning. It

would be feasible, and encouraged, for the majority of students to have high grades on their

portfolios. Although my school often focused on rigor and grade inflation, I think that the

portfolios will be evidence of enough critical thinking and work to prove that the students are

worthy of their grades.

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Although I had originally planned to create a Google Doc with links to my

assignments, I decided a website would be more user friendly for my ultimate goal of

expanding a system like this department wide. As I was reading from Digital Writing:

Assessment and Evaluation, I thought it would be nice to have the information the more

streamlined way that technology allows us to do. My goal is not to post each assignment, but

to make guidelines and resources accessible and organized for students and teachers. I can

easily expand the website as needed and add more information as the year goes on. I created a

syllabus that I plan to use with my students along with the plagiarism contract our department

currently uses each year. I also created kind of a catch-all for resources within each required

genre. I plan to add to this as I further develop my curriculum, but my hope is that I could use

this throughout the year to organize assignments, and then students can use it when they are

making choices for their portfolios so that they have resources to improve their work. If other

teachers want to join in and add their own assignments as well, they can.

One thing we are working on at my school is creating more cross-curricular

opportunities. Ive had teachers ask me for rubrics I use for genres of writing so that they can

assess their students in a similar way when they are doing that genre. I thought this might

help things to be more uniform and accessible without taking away the individuality and

detail that comes from teacher-student rapport and the teachers knowledge of the subject and

the students. While rubrics can be used in a detrimental way, Balester states, I advocate

revising rather than rejecting rubrics, at least for the short term (64). I believe they are a

good place to start and something that can be improved over time.

Ive included a very partial list of possible assignments for each category. These

assignments are specific to my class and I plan to add to the sections over time. This will

serve as a place students can go to decide what they will choose to go in their portfolio, as
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they will be required to choose one piece of writing from each category. If the first year is

successful in my classroom, I can add other classes and more writing options for my

classroom and others.

Writing is a skill that students will use throughout their life, and learning it increases

critical thinking ability, sentence structure, expression, grammar, voice, and communication.

I hope to increase my students writing ability while also building confidence and removing

the idea that they have failed in some way. By following these new guidelines, I hope to do

exactly that.
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Works Cited

Balester, Valerie. How Writing Rubrics Fail: Toward a Multicultural Model. Race and

Writing Assessment, edited by Inoue, Asao B. and Mya Poe, Peter Lang, 2012, 63-75.

Bauman, Marcy. What Grades Do for Us, and How to Do without Them. Alternatives to

Grading Student Writing, edited by Tchudi, Stephen, NCTE, 1997, 162-178.

Inoue, Asao B. Grading Contracts: Assessing their Effectiveness on Different Racial

Formations. Race and Writing Assessment, edited by Inoue, Asao B. and Mya Poe,

Peter Lang, 2012, 80-94.

Jones, Kathleen. Portfolio Assessment as an Alternative to Grading Student Writing.

Alternatives to Grading Student Writing, edited by Tchudi, Stephen, NCTE, 1997,


OHagan, Liesel K. Its Broken--Fix It!. Alternatives to Grading Student Writing, edited by

Tchudi, Stephen, NCTE, 1997, 3-13.