“The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” Blog #11 (Part 1)

*Warning: This is a very long blog because I read the directions wrong and read all three articles instead of picking just one. I did a lot of work on it so…enjoy! (Again, so sorry!)*

“As writers, we need and want thoughtful commentary to show us when we have communicated our ideas and when not, raising questions from a reader’s point of view that may not have occurred to us as writers. We want to know if our writing has communicated our intended meaning and, if not, what questions or discrepancies our readers see that we, as writers, are blind to.” (Nancy Sommers, 148)


  • Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria: John C. Bean


Purpose: Help instructors articulate their expectations for papers early on and to determine their grading standards in advance of an assignment.

Rubrics. Rubrics is something that I have never “liked.” In my honest opinion, I never found it helpful or useful. Using a red pen to make giant circles around numbers with vague descriptions in each category that determines my grade has always been a puzzle to me. I do understand that a rubric is more of a guide for teachers to stay organized and give fair grades to their students. Author of this article, John C. Bean, gives a more clear reasoning as to why teachers use rubrics. Bean suggests the idea of planning grading criteria along with communicating the criteria clearly to the students, then there will be a better chance of coaching, commenting, and aiding papers. Also, Bean described the various types of rubrics, which is something I thought was interesting. (All information provided from Bean, 270-276).

  1. Analytic vs. Holistic: The analytical method gives separate scores for each criterion, for example, ideas, organization, use of evidence, attention to alternative views, sentence structure-whereas the holistic method gives one score that reflects the reader’s overall impression of the paper, considering all criteria at once.
  2. Generic vs. Task-Specific: Generic rubrics follow one-size-fits-all designs, aimed for use across a variety of writing tasks. As much as possible they try to be universal. In contrast, task-specific rubrics are designed to fit an individual assignment or genre.
  3. Different Methods of Describing Performance Levels: The most common approach gradually ‘steps down’ the descriptors from level to level (in this case, six levels) to indicate different degrees of performance or merit. Typical step-down language includes terms such as there: always, usually, some of the time, rarely, fully, adequately, partially, minimally, high or broad, adequate, limited, and very limited.
  4. Grids vs. No Grids: Some teachers want to explain their grading criteria to students but avoid the constraints of grids and specific descriptors that may seem overly positivist and prescriptive. Instead of specific descriptors for each criterion, this teacher simply presents each criterion as a question, leaving blank space in which to write brief comments explaining the student’s numerical score for each criterion.

One of the last important sections of this article was how determining grades can worry a teacher and then effecting how they grade a paper. “Teachers who worry that low grades can affect students’ psyche, motivation, scholarship eligibility, or career options or who fear that low grades may influence student evaluations of their teachers are often satisfied with a lower bar” (Bean, 288). To have fairness and fewer worry feelings, the idea of grading papers before they know which student wrote it. By not knowing who wrote the paper, there is no room for bias.

  1. Teacher-Writers: Then, Now, and Next: Anne Elrod Whitney

Purpose: Reflect upon ‘the teacher as writer” and describe how we see this concept and movement developing. We articulate a view of the teacher-writer as empowered advocate. Using examples from our scholarship, we illustrate how this powerful idea can transform research conducted about and with teachers. Finally, we draw attention to the potential of the teacher-writer stance as a means of resistance to current reform efforts that disempower teachers.

Having the idea of reflecting on the history, present, and future status of teachers is a compelling thought and was well written by Anne Elrod Whitney. She presents three phases of the development of the teacher-writer.

  1. The writing process phase (the 1970s and 1980s): Promoted teachers as writers about process-oriented pedagogy and the rise of the writing workshop.
  2. The teacher research phase (the 1990s and 2000s): Writing about inquiry as a mode of professional development and generating useful knowledge.
  3. Currently, teachers as advocates and intellectuals: The context for teaching has been affected by privatization and standardization-forces that de-authorize teachers while emphasizing market forces as engines of educational innovation.

Writing and teaching go hand in hand, which I believe can easily go unnoticed.

I sum up this article as “the transformation of the developing teacher.”

  1. Responding to Student Writing: Nancy Sommers

Purpose: Comments create the motive for doing something different in the next draft; thoughtful comments create the motive for revising. Without comments from their teachers or from their peers, student writers will revise in a consistently narrow and predictable way. Without comments from readers, students assume that their writing has communicated their meaning and perceive no need for revising the substance of their text (Sommers, 149).

Another look into the deep waters of commenting on students’ papers gave me another opportunity to see both sides of the spectrum, the teacher and the student. (Thank you to Nancy Sommers for another great read). As a current student, I connect with the points made in this article about what students go through when it comes to revising their papers. However, understanding a teacher’s difficulty of trying to have a student create the best work they can without steering them in the wrong direction and allowing them to lose focus on the purpose of their paper. In high school and my first writing courses in college, I felt that the papers I wrote were for my professors, not for my learning experience. If my paper pleased the teacher, then I would be satisfied and then get my “teacher pleased grade.” When I would have the classes where my professor gave me comments on my paper that made me want to revise and do my best, it felt like a holiday. After reading this article, I found that teachers just need to be reminded of how to properly comment on a student’s paper. (Very simple).

Sommers presents research about how teachers and their comments on students’ papers change how they write.

  1. 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.
  2. Most teachers’ comments are not text-specific and could be interchanged, rubber-stamped, from text to text.

Since students follow the comments written on their papers, the errors may be fixed, but their papers are not improved and sometimes become worse when it comes to their second and third drafts, doing the opposite effect of revising. Another problem that Sommers emphasize is the use of vague language. “Choose precise language” or “think more about your audience” is a couple of examples that Sommers states are used when teachers comment on a student’s paper. She then claims this turns into a “guessing game” instead of a clear purpose of what needs to be changed and worked on.

What teachers need to take away is, “our comments need to offer students revision tasks of a different order of complexity and sophistication from the ones that they identify, by forcing students back into the chaos, back to the point where they are shaping and restructuring their meaning” (Sommers, 154). Some other important points that Sommers made were:

  • Our comments need to be suited to the draft we are reading (154).
  • The key to successful commenting is to have what is said in the comments and what is done in the classroom mutually reinforce and enrich each other (154).

Below, I sketched out how I think comments should be made on different drafts. Of course, I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the teaching side of the table, but this article inspired me to create my own guide to future grading criteria for my students’ papers.


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