HOWTO: 3 Easy Steps to Grading Student Essays
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HOWTO: 3 Easy Steps to Grading Student Essays

HOWTO: 3 Easy Steps to Grading Student Essays

In a world where number two pencils and bubbles on an answer sheet often determine a student’s grade, what criteria does the writing teacher use to evaluate the work of his or her students? After all, with essay writing you cannot simply mark some answers correct and others incorrect and figure out a percentage. The good news is that grading an essay can be just as easy and straightforward as grading multiple-choice tests with the use of a rubric!

What is a rubric?

  1. A rubric is a chart used in grading essays, special projects and other more items which can be more subjective. It lists each of the grading criteria separately and defines the different performance levels within those criteria. Standardized tests like the SAT’s use rubrics to score writing samples, and designing one for your own use is easy if you take it step by step. Keep in mind that when you are using a rubric to grade essays, you can design one rubric for use throughout the semester or modify your rubric as the expectations you have for your students increase.

How to Grade Student Essays

  1. 1

    What should I include?

    When students write essays, ESL teachers generally look for some common elements. The essay should have good grammar and show the right level of vocabulary. It should be organized, and the content should be appropriate and effective. Teachers also look at the overall effectiveness of the piece. When evaluating specific writing samples, you may also want to include other criteria for the essay based on material you have covered in class. You may choose to grade on the type of essay they have written and whether your students have followed the specific direction you gave. You may want to evaluate their use of information and whether they correctly presented the content material you taught. When you write your own rubric, you can evaluate anything you think is important when it comes to your students’ writing abilities. For our example, we will use grammar, organization and overall effect to create a rubric.

  2. 2

    What is an A?

    Using the criteria we selected (grammar, organization and overall effect) we will write a rubric to evaluate students’ essays. The most straightforward evaluation uses a four-point scale for each of the criteria. Taking the criteria one at a time, articulate what your expectations are for an A paper, a B paper and so on. Taking grammar as an example, an A paper would be free of most grammatical errors appropriate for the student’s language learning level. A B paper would have some mistakes but use generally good grammar. A C paper would show frequent grammatical errors. A D paper would show that the student did not have the grammatical knowledge appropriate for his language learning level. Taking these definitions, we now put them into the rubric.

    Grammar Free of most grammatical errors Some grammatical mistakes but generally shows successful grammar usage Frequent grammatical errors Appropriate grammatical knowledge not displayed for current language level
    Organization        
    Overall Effect        

    The next step is to take each of the other criteria and define success for each of those, assigning a value to A, B, C and D papers. Those definitions then go into the rubric in the appropriate locations to complete the chart.

    Grammar Free of most grammatical errors Some grammatical mistakes but generally shows successful grammar usage Frequent grammatical errors Appropriate grammatical knowledge not displayed for current language level
    Organization Essay shows clear organization with appropriate transitions Essay shows good organization but may lack appropriate transitions Essay lacks clear organization and appropriate transitions Essay is disorganized and confusing
    Overall Effect A strong overall effect with clear communication and support A good overall effect with some support and adequate clarity Essay struggles overall and does not give a coherent message Essay has a poor overall effect and does not fulfill assignment

    Each of the criteria will score points for the essay. The descriptions in the first column are each worth 4 points, the second column 3 points, the third 2 points and the fourth 1 point.

  3. 3

    What is the grading process?

    Now that your criteria are defined, grading the essay is easy. When grading a student essay with a rubric, it is best to read through the essay once before evaluating for grades. Then reading through the piece a second time, determine where on the scale the writing sample falls for each of the criteria. If the student shows excellent grammar, good organization and a good overall effect, he would score a total of ten points. Divide that by the total criteria, three in this case, and he finishes with a 3.33. which on a four-point scale is a B+. If you use five criteria to evaluate your essays, divide the total points scored by five to determine the student’s grade.

Once you have written your grading rubric, you may decide to share your criteria with your students.

If you do, they will know exactly what your expectations are and what they need to accomplish to get the grade they desire. You may even choose to make a copy of the rubric for each paper and circle where the student lands for each criterion. That way, each person knows where he needs to focus his attention to improve his grade. The clearer your expectations are and the more feedback you give your students, the more successful your students will be. If you use a rubric in your essay grading, you can communicate those standards as well as make your grading more objective with more practical suggestions for your students. In addition, once you write your rubric you can use it for all future evaluations.

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