Tag Archives: grading

Yes, and?

I’m at the point in February where I have to make peace with my plans for the weeklong recess: my to-do list is unbalanced with too many have-to dos and not enough get-to dos. The upshot is that I get to deal with my list while in the sticks of North Carolina, where I’ll have spotty Internet access and can begin to wean myself off Facebook. I schedule this break intentionally every year and I realize I’m usually so frazzled for the first couple of days that I tend to miss the beauty of being somewhere else.

Not this year. Yes, I have stuff to do. I’m goal-oriented, so there’s no doubt I’ll get those tasks accomplished, but I’m going to remind myself that I will NEVER be in the world of done and that I need to slow it down. I’ll go into the nearby small towns, do some leisurely reading at the book store, pick up some gifts for my niece and nephews, some new yarn for yet another project I probably won’t finish…I will enjoy my time.

Oh, and I have to grade the latest set of papers from my students. Rookie move, assigning a paper that was due the day before break. But, they needed the practice…

Crazily (?) enough, I’m most looking forward to embracing a way of responding to student writing that I learned about after attending an NCTE presentation by Katherine Bomer in November. She suggested that rather than entering into a conversation with a piece of student writing by seeing what’s wrong, that instead we start saying yes, and? Yes, you’re making this point…and what else might you add to help the reader understand why it matters, for example.

I tend to be relatively encouraging with young writers, but, there are times when I know I’m too brusque, or too vague (imagine that), or too caught up in my own writing that I can potentially shut out a writer. And working with adolescent writers is difficult, particularly if they think they aren’t great writers in the first place. 

Yes, and? allows me to check myself. So, when I’m writing a comment in the margin via Google docs (the way I respond to most drafts now), I’m more likely to write yes, and? rather than something less inviting. Yes, and? is an invitation, as it were, to say more, to expand on ideas, to illuminate relevance. To keep writing. That’s the ultimate goal, actually. 

Thus, I like this way of interacting with their writing, a way of responding that is both validating and encouraging for students, and  a reminder for me to keep the doors open for the writing improvement that inevitably happens if you just keep working on improvement…yes, I’m interested in what you have to say and the myriad ways you might say it. 

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New School Chronicles: My Albatross

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Papers, there are always papers to be graded (or at least schlepped around until I feel guilty enough to grade them)…

If you look closely at the picture that accompanies this post, you’ll see a couple of things: first, you’ll see a pumpkin that a friend brought me as a housewarming gift. You’ll see my red teacher bag, most likely filled with stuff that I can’t quite ever clean out, and you’ll see that blue reusable bag teeming with student papers to be graded.

Two things remain constant in that picture: first, my teacher bag seems to always have the same contents: a couple of folders that catch stray papers, handouts I want to amend, something left on the copier I forgot to file away, a half-finished book of some genre. The blue bag is similar in its consistency as well: it always has some handful of papers from students that I’m in-the-progress of grading. ALWAYS.

Here’s what happens: I assign a paper for the week or two-week period, we write hard and, because the kids are honors kids, they all turn in their papers. On time. Maximum length. That’s probably about 25 papers on average, per class. I have equal parts exhilaration and dread when it’s paper turn-in day. I’m stoked that I’m going to get some relatively decently written papers and I’m reticent because I then have about 1 1/2 weeks to turn them around. I binder clip the papers by class, then put them into the blue bag to bring home with me. When I get home, though, the bag goes on the chair, my sweater usually atop that, and then I start doing other things (like, I don’t know, LIVING). The next morning, as I’m rushing to get out of the door, I look at the bag again, sitting in the exact place where I left it, taunting me. As I sit on the subway, I always have a brief, intense conversation with myself about whether I should just start grading, but then, I get selfish and remind myself that I’ve promised that, for the 40ish minutes that I’m on the train, I will read whatever I want to, because that is my right as a reader and that is what I need in my life.

The papers don’t get graded. Repeat this cycle for about a week, of carrying the papers to and from school, of not removing said papers from the bag, of dodging student comments about when those papers will be returned.

Mind you, I’ve become an even more efficient grader over the last three years. A former colleague taught me how to notice themes and write these brilliant writing notes that address issues, but, in order to craft those writing notes, you first have to…wait for it…read the papers.

Finally I reach a point–usually after I am made to feel guilty by a student who never asks any questions but, on this particular day was “just wondering” when we were going to get our papers back because they wanted to work on improving their writing and something about feedback (good one; they know that if they ever couch their requests in such a way as writers improving their craft, I’ll attempt to move heaven and earth to make it happen), I cave.

I stay at school, pull out the papers and grade, and grade, and grade. Or at least read them, make notes, and occasionally get blown away by kids who are coming into their own by learning to write a compelling argument. I lay the albatross down momentarily, at least for another week, when the cycle begins anew.

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