Monday, September 9, 2013

No Such Thing as a Final Draft

I often worry about one major thing when it comes to grading papers (and no, surprisingly, it isn't "time").

What I worry about is fairness.

I can tell when writing is bad-- when it is unclear, lacking purpose, overly verbose or overly concise. The only issue I have is recognizing writing that is good. What is good writing? With so many changing definitions and so many interpretations of good writing, how can I possibly be as fair? This isn't a math problem, where I can choose to only accept the final answer as a strict right or wrong. It isn't necessarily testable like the science lab reports all of us used to do in high school. The subject that we teach is inherently malleable, flexible, and subjective. How do I assess the writing of my students?

In The Six Traits of Writing by Spandel, a sentence near the very beginning that helped put my mind at ease was this: 
"When we think assessment, we usually think grading or testing. This is a very limited view. Assessment is looking within." (4)
The last part of that particular quote really strikes me. Looking within what, exactly? I believe that true writing assessment takes into consideration the writing, viewing it not as an end, but as a tool to look within the student--to truly understand the thoughts and ideas behind the writing, rather than just the writing itself.

I had a professor a few years ago who said this to me: "There is no such thing as a final draft. What you turn in will always have the potential to be revised, because writing is a process." It took me a long time to realize exactly what he meant. What you turn in for a grade may be the final chance you get at receiving the grade for the course, but writing is a process of revision, rethinking, rewriting, reimagining, re-doing, and reawakening. All drafts, in the course of things, are rough. Some may be rougher than others. Walt Whitman released nine editions and revisions of his magnus opus Leaves of Grass, working at it for 33 years of his life. Similarly, we as teachers must understand that the drafts the students turn in should not be viewed as the end of that particular road, but as simply another stepping stone towards even greater writing, and greater self-discovery.

It's eerie how well this concept fits in with the surge of digital literacy education in classrooms across America. Although I had never had the experience of truly experiencing digital education, the core purpose of digital literature rings true with the opinions expressed thus far. According to Hicks:
“Digital writing tools allow teachers and students unprecedented access into the writing process. From blog posts that accumulate into a collection of work, to draft upon draft of revisions that are automatically stored in a wiki’s history or in an online word processor, students are increasingly able to easily archive and return their work over time” (108).
The key take-away is in that last sentence. Returning to their work. How we grade may be subjective, and how we teach may change, but what all teachers need to understand is that their class is not the sole provider of literature and discovery. Their class shouldn't be the end. Your teacher's desk is not a place where ideas come to die. It is a place to spark discussion and growth--and if all teachers would keep that in mind, I believe grading papers wouldn't be so bad after all.


  1. Yes and Yes! I totally agree with you on how grading papers shouldn't really be about evaluating how well or bad students wrote but about expanding students' thoughts and ideas. Since it's pretty obvious by now that reading and writing share a lot of things in common, I think that the assessment for reading and writing should be similar as well. If writing assessment can be about helping students expand their ideas and thoughts, I think reading assessments(comprehension quizzes/tests mostly) should also be about helping them expand their realizations. I mean, not only reading and writing but learning itself or our life even is not static. Everything really is progressive, evolving, and changing. So why and how can we as teachers put a ending grade on something that needs to keep growing and changing?

  2. Eric,
    I cant believe that “fairness” was the first thing I read in your blog because it was the last thing I wrote. How to be fair in grading…well that is the age-old question isn’t it. I think your statement that writing is a fluid process and can only improve is a great idea. All we can do as teachers is point our students in the write direction and make sure they don’t fall off the edge of the map. We open their world for them and just watch them explore.