© copyright 1997, University Writing
Program at Virginia Tech -1997-98 Informational Flyer Series
-Issue 4, Fall 1997
Investing Your Time Earlier In The Process
Often we wish simply to hand out the
assignment and get back to the work of the course, assuming,
if there are no immediate questions, that students "get it."
Too often the students don't fully "get it," with the result
that the process of completing such a project for students
may be time-consuming and frustrating, the process of
evaluating for me equally time-consuming and frustrating.
This is unfortunate, since such small and large assignments,
fully realized, ought to constitute the essential
educational experiences of the course. Though many of the
options below appear to be time-consuming, they can in fact
lead to a reduction in time for students and teachers and,
more importantly, a more productive, more fruitful use of
1. Clearly explain criteria: Include your
criteria for evaluating papers on the syllabus and/or on the
2. Model: Present and discuss in class a
professional example or successful student example of the
kind of writing you are asking for in the assignment.
3. Discuss the assignment: Go over the
assignment aloud, sentence by sentence; clarify important
terms; reword; illustrate with examples, analogies,
metaphors or ask students to provide these.
4. Attempt the assignment yourself: Doing
so may alert you to potential problems or pitfalls in the
assignment design, help you determine evaluative criteria,
or persuade you to foreground certain key concerns in class.
5. Include informal writing: Build in to
the assignment ungraded writing that will help students
better understand it and will help you gauge students'
progress. Examples of such writing: a paraphrase of the
assignment immediately after you hand it out, a prospectus,
a progress statement or self-evaluation mid-way through the
project, a cover letter or memo on top of the final paper.
6. Conference with students: If time, see
each student half-way through a project to help them develop
and revise. Make your key contribution here; put a grade and
only minimal comments on the final paper. Even seeing just a
few students can clue you in to common problems which you
can then address and help remedy in class.
7. Use peer review: Set some time aside
for students to read and comment on classmates' drafts. If
written peer critiques are submitted with the final paper,
you may find yourself agreeing with some or all of the
critique; point to it in your comment to save yourself time.
8. Respond to drafts: Tell students you
will comment on drafts, giving only a grade on the final
B. Working Through The Pile
1. Review criteria before grading: Know
exactly what you expect of an A paper, and how you will
differentiate among A, B, C, D, and F papers.
2. Locate range finders: set aside one or
two representative As, Bs, Cs, Ds which can act as
touchstones if you lose focus or struggle with a given
3. Read through the writing once without
commenting: Respond-as-you-go is a tough habit to break, but
it can interrupt the flow of your reading too often,
creating frustration and comprehension problems.
4. Separate problem papers: Agonizing over
problem paper may disrupt your reading; deal with these
papers later, perhaps calling upon a second reader for help.
5. Take breaks: Learn to read your fatigue
signs and schedule breaks at strategic times. Don't read an
entire batch of papers in one sitting.
C. Responding Strategies
1. Tailor responses to individual writers:
Address an individual human being and sign your name to your
response; if possible, connect this writing to other
writings the student has done in the course and/or address
the student's progress.
2. Make precise comments that refer to
specific information in student texts: Generic
comments--"some of your reasoning breaks down in places,"
"develop your analysis further"--can't be acted upon; point
to particular moments in the text, pose specific questions,
3. Treat a limited number of issues in a
given paper: You can't do it all, and multiple suggestions
or criticisms can overwhelm students; prioritize and suggest
two or three things to work on.
4. Balance positive and negative modes of
commentary: Help students see what they do well as well as
what they need to work on.
5. Invoke the student's intended audience:
Reinforce audience awareness by explaining how a student's
tone, word choice, organization, etc. would affect the
6. Shift proofreading and copy-editing
responsibility to the student: Correcting errors for
students will not help them learn to correct errors
themselves. On the first set of papers, you may choose to
identify representative errors by means of labels, handbook
references, or checks in the margins, but these props should
rapidly fall away as students assume responsibility
themselves for finding and correcting errors. A recent study
found students able to identify and correct 61.1% of all
errors on their own with careful proofreading.