One of my favorite elements of Northern Arizona University’s English 105 program is the check system (as apposed to a point system) for grading homework. Instead of giving students a grade on their homework assignments, instructors are encouraged to give a check for full credit, a check plus for extra credit and a check minus for partial credit. The check system relieves students of the pressure to “get a good grade” and encourages them to focus on the content of their homework instead of the structure or surface errors. In “Closing My Eyes as I Speak,” Peter Elbow explains the importance of helping students let go of anxiety and pressure like this: “whether we want to teach greater audience awareness or the ability to ignore audience, we must help students learn not only to ‘try harder’ but also to ‘just relax'” (65). Not having to calculate numbers or look at a rubric also helps me to relax into grading. When giving my students checks, I read all the homework, leave a few comments, mark credit in the grade book and then move on to more important things like lesson planning or conferencing with students.
For the blog, I have developed a very similar check system. This semester I’ve juggled the posts and comments of 74 students to the blog. When I’m ready to check homework, I begin at the top of my roster and search for students’ posts and comments on the blog by their usernames (my process for usernames is explained in Creating the Blog). Here is a helpful tip: if the homework assignment was to leave a comment on the blog, then search under comments for each student, but if the homework was to write a post you will need to search under contributors (the same page that lets you email and invite contributors) to find each students’ posts.
Reading students’ comments on the blog is way more fun than reading regular homework! I think part of this is because they are experimenting with their voices in the public space of the blog and their language takes on more playful and dynamic elements in the process. I also have a hunch that the more laid back style of writing that the blog asks students to produce allows them to be more honest.
But that’s just a hunch! A hunch based largely on Peter Elbow’s idea that:
sometimes the problem is cured if they just relax and write to people-as though in a letter or in talking to a trusted adult. By unclenching, they effortlessly call on social discourse skills of immense sophistication (65).
But a hunch, nonetheless.
Click on the ProActiv advertisement on the left to view the range of comments–varying in quality, content and style–the first blog assignment received from students. The prompt asked students to choose from a variety of advertisements (targeted at their generation) and to decide three things: what the purpose of the chosen advertisement is, what specific details the advertisement provides about the intended audience and whether or not the message is effective. I asked them to use language that people outside of our classroom could understand and I asked them to synthesize their thoughts with the comments of anyone who commented before them. When allocating checks, students who went above and beyond the assignment and related the content back to their lives received check pluses and the students who did’t achieve the word minimum received a check minus.
Please let me know if you have any questions on this! And if you develop any new strategies for grading the blog comments and posts I’d love to hear about it. After allocating a check (or check minus or check plus) in my grade book, I decide whether I am going to reply to a student comment or not. Please see Commenting on Student Posts for more ideas on this.
Elbow, Peter. “Closing my Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience.”
College English 49.1 (1987): 50-69.