ENGLISH 110: USING COMMENTS AND UNDERSTANDING GRADES

The grading rubric grid lays out the aspects of your essays I’ll look at most closely as I make my comments. You’ll recognize the first three categories from Graff & Birkenstein’s description of the “moves that matter” in writing academic essays. You can refer to the book for more detailed description of how to represent what others are saying (They Say), frame and take a perspective (I Say), and develop this perspective throughout your essay, but the general outlines are given below.  You’ll also recognize a version of the ENG 110 learning objectives.


How to Read the Rubric

The comments I make in the margins of your paper are part of a conversation about your reading, your perspective, and how your writing develops these. While these comments are linked to the specific essay assignment, you should think about the larger patterns or approaches to reading and writing that I’m signaling as areas for you to keep in mind when revising and writing new essays.

The rubric is a companion to these in-text comments. You will be able to see quickly which aspect of academic writing, and which more specific learning objective, needs your greatest attention.  I’ll circle/highlight the more specific points. I will not be making any more extensive comments on the rubric, and invite you instead to make an appointment to discuss any questions you might have.


Keeping your Grade in Context

Students sometimes express frustration that they work hard at their essays, but their grades don’t improve, or they address my written suggestions for revision, yet their grades still don’t improve, or don’t improve as much as they would like. Here are some things to keep in mind to understand how your work in the course is being evaluated:

  • It is possible to get too much feedback. You might find it hard to decipher, let alone meaningfully respond to, comments about all the aspects of your essay that could be improved. I will prioritize comments to focus on the most significant, global issues (e.g., reading comprehension, perspective, organization) and leave the local issues (e.g., control of grammar or proofreading) for another time. So, addressing all my comments doesn’t mean that you’ve worked on all the aspects of the essay that need to be, and can be, improved.
  • How your writing addresses my comments matters. You really might spend a lot of time working to address my comments, but if you’re still having trouble integrating quotations or maintaining a clear perspective, for example, your grade may not improve. If you do improve in these areas, then it may be time to draw your attention to other areas of writing that need your attention.
  • Your grade on a given essay isn’t based on your effort.  It’s based on the quality of the writing you hand in, so it is possible to work hard or do a lot of work and produce an average paper. It’s certainly my goal to teach you how to meet the ENG 110 course objectives, but that will take all semester to do.
  • If you are getting a C-, you ARE demonstrating the learning objectives! If you’re getting at least a C-, you are meeting standards for college-level writing. We’ll work to meet them better, but there’s no quick fix to learning to read and write in these ways.
  • Your essays carry 70% of the weight of your final grade. So, don’t forget the other 30%. Here’s where effort DOES matter. If you are making a good faith effort to read and respond to questions, are active in class discussion and workshops, conference with me, and complete all your other work on time, your attendance and participation, homework, and other assignments will improve your grade.

Description of Categories

“I Say”

This is the perspective you bring to the readings. It is a response to the “conversation” that shows both where your ideas are coming from, how you will move that conversation forward (or redirect it), and why your contribution matters.  It is always linked to the “they say,” but it highlights those aspects of other peoples’ ideas in order to create an opening for your own. This perspective carries through the whole essay and serves as the kernel or node to which all your smaller points can be linked. “I Say” statements might follow this pattern: “By analyzing [focus], I will argue that [claim], which is important because [significance],” but whatever form it takes, it should tell the reader what your perspective is, what you’ll be looking at to develop this perspective, and why you think your contribution ought to make a difference in the conversation.

 “They Say”

This is the set of ideas that make up the conversation you want to join. You can take them in the aggregate when you consider ways of approaching or talking about a topic, for example, as things that lawyers/business people/civil rights advocates/historians etc. say about privacy. You can also focus on what particular writers who embody these perspectives have said on the topic by summarizing, paraphrasing, and directly quoting their words and ideas.You use these to introduce and synthesize pieces of your larger idea, including those perspectives that differ from or complicate the points you’re making. By anticipating, representing, and responding to other ways of thinking about an issue, problem, or question—and showing these perspectives to your reader—you clarify the new knowledge your essay is creating.

 “Tying it all Together”

Graff & Birkenstein focus on repeating ideas “with a difference” throughout the paper, pairing an academic with an “everyday” voice, and using titles, headings, or other “metacommentary” to signal ideas and guide readers through your thinking. Organization, both the overall structure of your argument and the paragraph-level development of an idea, is the main way you show your thinking. Your perspective or main idea is comprised of key concepts, information, and smaller claims or ideas that need to be explained in order for your reader to understand the larger contribution you’re making. Your organization should therefore demonstrate awareness of what your audience is likely to know and think so that you can determine what they will need to know or hear from you–and in what order– to understand the next point you’ll make. The MEAL plan (Main Idea, Evidence, Analysis, and Link) suggests an organizational structure at the paragraph level.

 Presentation

We do informal writing in this class, but your formal essays need to demonstrate your seriousness of purpose.  You are asking me to evaluate your writing, but essays that still need to be proofread, or aren’t correctly formatted, or which  do not document your work with sources can both impede my ability to understand what you’re saying and suggest you didn’t take the assignment seriously. Your writing is the textual representation of your ideas—and of you—so even the best ideas will suffer if not well presented.

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