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November 07, 2005

Evaluating Student Work in English Courses

Graded Paper.jpg

"True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information." ~ Sir Winston Churchill

Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of teaching, particularly a class with writing as its focus, is how to fairly evaluate a student’s classwork assignments. Of course, I’m speaking for myself, perhaps some of you out there actually like this part of the job (sickos!)

I’ll be honest, I really can’t stand the process of grading papers (although I do love reading them and providing helpful advice). Evaluation, it seems, is a necessary evil and has got to be done (so says the institution) but why does it have to be so stressful?

Distinguishing between the various language formalities and acknowledging mechanical/formatting errors are one thing but fitting a particular paper’s content into a grading rubric is quite another. Do we really want to enforce writing organization rules to the point that every single student paper we read is a sibling to the one before? What about grading style? Isn’t style just what the word implies? How can we really do anything other than give friendly advice on style? Quite often, I actually end up deducting more points for a failure to follow the instructions rather than the actual writing itself (how fascist!).

To make things worse, unless an overbearing institution has prescribed all the rules, it seems that every teacher has his or her own method for handling evaluation. Agreement in our field is rare. Once in awhile I will turn to my colleagues for their perspectives (interesting how secretive some of them are about their process). Sometimes, I actually do get some good advice but usually I come away more baffled than before.

When so much is on the line for a student and his or her future by what score they receive for an assignment, or for that matter an entire course, how do we as instructors fairly “evaluate” (and I purposefully use that work in quotation marks) our students? Our employers insist on this point, the students’ parents often demand it and even the students themselves want to know where they stand, not only from a class ranking perspective but also in the eyes of their beloved teacher.

As much as I’d like to give everyone an “A,” I realize that teachers who do this are only cheating the majority of their students by providing them with a very false sense of achievement. Sooner or later, the skills students fail to acquire in the more elementary levels will be needed to pass a higher level course with a similarly high score.

Is there something wrong with my logic here?

Well, I always knew this was part of the game when I first chose teaching as a career but that doesn’t mean I expected it to be the fun part. I’m curious what my ESL (or other) teaching readership out there has to say about the subject of evaluation. Gripes, insights and helpful advice are all welcome on this blog. What do you find to be a helpful methodology when it comes to this very touchy and controversial subject?

Maybe I'll just turn to that purported software that can do it for you now, lol. Saw it in a post by Hilzoy here.

Your patience with my rant is appreciated.

Lee Hobbs
ESL Instruct, Editor-in-Chief

Posted by lhobbs at November 7, 2005 03:34 PM

Readers' Comments:

I am an English Teacher under Federal Directorate of Education in Islamabad. Teaching is not a child -play, it needs techniques and skill. I realy enjoy teaching when there is response from the students.And there should be motivation on behalf of teacher.there should be interest in teaching. When there is interest there will be learning. it is a proverb "it is easy to take horse to water but it is difficult to make it drink"

Posted by: Riaz Khan at November 11, 2005 10:16 PM


Note from Lee:

Thanks for your comments Riaz. I agree, teaching is definitely not child's play. We all like it when our students show a little interest after we've put some valuable time into our lesson planning. If you've been following our posts, you'll see that our line of discussion has been dealing with student plagiarism, particularly from the internet, in ESL writing classes (or otherwise). Assuming you've spent some time prepping them on what academic cheating and intellectual theft entails, how do you deal with this disturbing trend? I feel sure my blog readers would like to learn about how plagiarism is dealt with by the educational institutions in Pakistan.

Posted by: Lee at November 13, 2005 09:39 PM

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