For two summers in a row I had a chance to be a part of the UNCC Writing Project Summer Institute. The first year I was a new participant. It was a terrific experience. I went back a second time as part of the Advanced Summer Institute. One day we did a tableau of people thinking about assessment, and boy were the faces sad. How do you properly assess your students? It was one of my biggest fears going into teaching for the Fall of 2010. I spent the summer before reading books, Googling etc. I’ve tried a variety of different forms of grading, but I always come back to the use of the portfolio at some point which is interesting because I don’t really recall doing them when I was in school. Times are always changing, and I wasn’t sure that the portfolio was the way I wanted to assess my students mostly because I wanted the students to always have an idea what their grade was as we went through the semester. I wanted a simple way to keep the grades electronically, and having an ongoing portfolio seemed to complicate that record keeping.
One thing I did do to help myself with initial grading (before I was using portfolios much) was to tweak some online rubrics that I found. The rubric I finally came up with is one I could give out to all of my classes so they had an idea of what I was looking for in a paper. I’ll also share another small rubric I used for a composition two class to help students with their journal/in class writing. For a composition two class that was more professional writing based, I had some fun with the portfolio rubric and we graded everything in dollars and cents like they were getting “paid.” They were being “paid” in grades I guess you could say, but what do teachers make? (That’s just a side note as I’m going through my records).
When I started doing the final portfolios I realized how much they were growing on me, and how most of the student did take away something from the experience, especially from writing a final reflective letter. As I was working on this post I realized that, while I didn’t think of myself as someone who did things via portfolio, I totally am. This blog is a portfolio. I can sum up my day, a week, a whole experience and share it here. My various books are portfolios of a time and space in my writing life. Putting some kind of official name on the experience of compiling and reflecting made it seem “wrong” to me somehow. Grading is seen, by some, as such a bad thing.
But, is it? We are constantly graded in our jobs and in our personal lives for how “well” we achieve so should school be any different? Aren’t teachers, after all, preparing students for the next stage of their life whether that is more schooling or the workplace? I’m wandering a bit here, but I think what I’m trying to say is that I don’t see grades as evil. If you give your students a framework for how you go about assessing them, and you are consistent in your review then it can be a successful and rewarding experience for the teacher and the student. It is a shared experience. It isn’t about giving grades. It is about earning a process.
I’ll need to come back to this. I have new ideas a brewing! My new course designs (when I have a classroom again) definitely revolve more around portfolio and project type grading/review. This post kind of finishes my initial thoughts on teaching composition one, but I’m going to move into composition two unless someone argues I should cover one of my creative writing courses or a literature one first?