A greater different to grading scholar writing

from Terry Heik

This is a short post that just came to mind as I was writing about writing.

I thought about how I could use technology to help students improve their writing and found myself thinking about the writing process and how crucial it is to the quality of what the author is left with.

Great writing starts at the beginning, whether it’s with an idea or need or purpose, social context or a spark of inspiration. Whatever it is that “causes” the beginning of writing – what is forged there in the beginning is something of a lump of clay. Not much could happen without that sound and the quality of that sound is important; Its texture and purity and consistency and overall composition have a lot to say about what it can produce. What you can create with that clay depends in large part on the quality and quantity of that clay.

See also It’s time to think differently about writing in the classroom

But even more important than the sound is what you make of it. It is a process of shaping and reshaping. It’s a question of vision and perseverance as much as inspiration and talent. The quality of events and the sequence of events after that initial nugget of clay is forged is more important than the quality of the teaching itself.

Because writing is procedural and mechanical, skills and strategies, habits and tricks, etc. are of huge importance. Writing is often viewed as a matter of inspiration and talent and love and fiction and storytelling and big words and style, but the truth is that these iconic “things” are a product of skill and strategy and habits and tricks – and the mindset, that you have are applied with.

The purpose of the writing process

In other words, the writing process itself is everything. It doesn’t have to be used the same way every time and that’s another conversation for another day and I’m just mentioning it briefly because the worst thing you can do is read this post and then push the ‘dullness of the writing process’ down the Throats of aspiring writers/students who just need to believe they can and have the opportunity to write, with expert, high-quality, timely feedback to guide them.

All of this leads me to the title. Rather than assessing the end result of this process (the completed process), assess the quality of that student’s use of the writing process—ideally based on their specific strengths and weaknesses and the purpose and audience of the writing assignment itself.

After all, the goal of teaching writing isn’t for the students to have created a lot of quality writing in your classroom.

In fact, the goal of learning to write is not even to be able to use the writing process. Rather, the overall goal of teaching writing is to instill in each student the tendency to write—the belief that writing is valuable and that they are capable of writing.

Once this is established, writing teachers can cultivate the habit and tendency to use a form of writing process that works for that student.

Then, in a perfect world, the student can be coached to write quality lyrics that achieve a clear goal with a clear audience and hopefully somehow improve their lives and the world around them.

Using the writing process

Applying the writing process takes years of practice, as creating great writing requires constant vision and refinement. It requires the author to understand what they are trying to say and then say it in a way that has an effect on the world. Research, idea organization, paragraph structure, sentence direction, diction, punctuation, rule breaking, intonation, literary devices—using these ideas to communicate complex ideas is hard work.

Therefore, writing is less of an activity and more of a process not unlike the scientific process. While we would do it for professionals, it wouldn’t make much sense to grade kids doing science on the accuracy of their data. Rather, their ability and tendency to use the scientific process to test theories and gather data would be far more important.

For laypeople in many fields, the process is far more important than the product.

If these goals (or similar ones) are at least partially met, then a viable alternative to grading student writing is to grade whether the student is writing and how the student is using the writing process himself in a way that makes sense to him.

And in a way that shows ownership of that writing process that will continue long after they leave your classroom.

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