For detailed information about grading student writing, see the Grading section of our website. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when grading student writing.
Grade for Learning Objectives
Know what the objective of the assignment is, and grade according to a standard (a rubric) that assesses precisely that. If the purpose of the assignment is to analyze a process, focus on the analysis in the essay. If the paper is unreadable, however, consult with the professor and other GSIs about how to proceed. It may be wise to have a shared policy about the level of readiness or comprehensibility expected and what is unacceptable.
Response to Writing Errors
The research is clear: do not even attempt to mark every error in students’ papers. There are several reasons for this. Teachers do not agree about what constitutes an error (so there is an unavoidable element of subjectivity); students do not learn when confronted by too many markings; and exhaustive marking takes way too much of the instructor’s time. An excellent essay on this topic is “On Not Being a Composition Slave” by Maxine Hairston (available at the GSI Teaching & Resource Center). Resist the urge to edit or proofread your students’ papers for superficial errors. At most, mark errors on one page or errors of only two or three types.
Commenting on Student Papers
The scholarly literature in this area distinguishes formative
from summative comments. Summative comments are the more traditional approach. They render judgment about an essay after it has been completed. They explain the instructor’s judgment of a student’s performance. If the instructor’s comments contain several critical statements, the student often becomes protective of his or her ego by filtering them out; learning from mistakes becomes more difficult. If the assignment is over with, the student may see no reason to revisit it to learn from the comments. Visit http://gsi.berkeley.edu/teachingguide/writing/grading.html for the full sample.