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Grading Student Papers; Addressing Grammar & Mechanics

Before switching to English literature, I began my undergraduate career at the University of Florida studying print journalism. I trained my eyes to read line-by-line to catch grammatical errors as taught from the Associated Press Stylebook. I learned the hard way that a comma splice resulted in a 50-point reduction from my final grade. I finally pegged down the difference between who and whom.

And this is where my preconceptions and preoccupations come into play.

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I read student papers with the bias that I expect to find errors. And, as Nancy Sommers in her article Responding to Student Writing puts it, we find what we look for (339).

I have a nasty habit of correcting usage errors, rather than reading and responding to the meaning of the student paper as an entire discourse. I know this. I've known this. But now I'm forced to do something about my painstakingly thorough nitpicking.

The first finding of Sommers research into teacher commentary on student work is as follows; Teachers comments can take students attention away from their own purposes in writing a particular text and focus that attention on the teachers purpose in commenting (334).

Guilty as charged.

The purpose of teacher commentary is to assist student revision, to help students become a reader of their own writing, and, ultimately, to teach students how to evaluate and develop control over their own writing. Without teacher commentary, students, more often than not, revise in a predictably narrow way.

But comments on accidents of discourse, such as the 20 Most Common Errors as fleshed out in The Everyday Writer, will actually discourage students from engaging with their purposes and goals in writing. Comments like these direct student attention toward the word, clause, and sentence level of the text and away from the text as a whole. After all, how can a student see his or her writing as an harmonious unit focused with a meaning and logic that follows an overall structure that transitions from thesis to body paragraphs to conclusion if there are red circles indicating spelling and grammar errors throughout?

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Posted in Real Estate Post Date 03/11/2016


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