The Writing Center

Newsletter for Writing Across the Curriculum

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What most professors want from the many hours they spend grading WAC papers is substantive revision. We want to see students rethink and refashion, but often students do little more than address surface features. In this newsletter, I'd like to address some of the ways students take our comments and how to avoid the problems we so often see. Attached is an analytic grading sheet that can make revising and grading much easier. Let's consider some of the issues involved in grading and how students understand these comments.

Overgrading can produce some negative results

Students often take surface corrections to be the only corrections you want made. This misunderstanding results from seeing writing as only style and grammar (which happened for over 400 years in the teaching of writing and is therefore a very natural mistake for students even in college).

Mixing higher and lower order concerns confuses students

When comments about the development and structure of a paper exist side by side with style and grammar corrections, students get confused and do not privilege the higher order concerns of focus, development and organization. Here again, students can all too easily opt for surface instead of substantive revision.

Overgrading can encourage students to avoid thinking for themselves

Revision of the WAC paper can be one of the most challenging parts of a college education---if students take up this task as their own challenge rather than one that they see as surface correction for you. Clarity about what revision means in a WAC course is essential. Students will say, “Tell me what you want me to do” rather than “I see now that I need to develop my argument with more paraphrases and reasoning.”

To avoid these problems, composition scholars advocate splitting up the grade so that students know higher from lower order concerns. The attached sheet gives grades for focus, development, organization, style and mechanics. With traditional holistic scoring (“A” through “F”), student writers are often confused about what to revise. I usually tell students that the top three categories (focus, development, organization) require much more time to revise than do style and mechanics. If you would like a workshop for your students on revising, please call me at extension 6982

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