Information Sheet # 31

October 26, 1989


Discussion of evaluating writing often makes teachers edgy. First, evaluating implies knowing a great deal about English rhetoric, grammar, or style--subjects with which many teachers feel unfamiliar. Second, evaluating conjures up the dread image of stacks of papers to be marked, a vision that makes many teachers avoid writing assignments.

As for the criteria in "English" evaluation, the teachers' knowledge of their disciplines will provide the necessary skills to assess writing quality. The central question throughout evaluation is not, "Is this good writing," (as measured on some absolute scale of literary excellence) but, "Does this writing effectively communicate learning in my discipline?" (a question that any competent instructor can answer with reasonable confidence).

The instructor can evaluate (though not necessarily "grade") writing at many points. As the chart [below] suggests, evaluation can begin as the instructor assesses student reactions to the writing assignment: "Are they getting the idea? Do I need to supply more explanation and examples?"

The instructor can assist the drafting process by considering four questions when responding to early drafts of writing:

1. How can I respond positively to what has been done well (perhaps urging the student to extend points of excellence to the whole piece)? Little will be gained if the student becomes frustrated by negative commentary.

2. What one or two pieces of constructive advice can I offer that will lead to direct improvement in the paper?

3. Is the material accurate: does it reflect the sound learning in the discipline?

4. Is it presented clearly and effectively in writing?

Stage Options for Instructor


* Free writes in response to assignment explore ideas and assumptions before beginning research.

* Students comment on assignment.

* Discussion of criteria for evaluation.


* Students submit written statements of goals.

* Students do "learning logs"; discuss experiences and ideas explored while on the project.

* Submit thesis statement with written defense.

* Draft annotated bib.; summarize research read.

* "Think papers" discusses ideas being considered for paper. {Any of these planning/writing options can be done with the Writing Center checking work done.}

Writing Drafts

* Students work on drafts in class (either solo of in groups); the instructor spot checks work done.

* Submit rough drafts (to instructors or peers).

* Mini-conferences: papers brought to faculty for 5-minute conferences.

* Submit pieces of papers: outlines, bibs., methods sections, conclusions, graphs.

* Short 5-minute free writes summarize work done.

* "Think papers" informally discuss where ideas have been and going.

Final Copy

* Students compose a self-evaluation; turn in with paper.

* Peer review and commentary on papers.

[The material in this Information Sheet is adapted from Teaching Writing in the Counter Areas by Stephen N. Tchudi.]

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