andrea.burnett

Stop the Insanity: Leave the Essays at School

Blog Post created by andrea.burnett on Mar 16, 2016

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

 

Grading essays…fun, right? Thinking about them every waking moment.  Carrying them around with you both physically and mentally.  Spending hours upon hours editing them.  They literally take over your life!  You trust that your painstaking work will pay off; that your students will appreciate and learn from your labors.  You nervously hand back the essays and wait for your students to thank you for all of the effort that you put into making them better writers.  For neglecting your own children, pets, spouses, homes, and health to help them in their struggle to write well.

 

The students flip to the last page, search for the grade, dismiss the comments, and ask, “Why did you GIVE me that grade?”  You sigh, knowing that it’s already time to assign the next essay.  It makes you think twice about assigning essays, doesn’t it?

 

Well, I’ve got the solution. After going from a class load of 40 students to upwards of 150, I had to figure out a way to keep writing relevant, while also maintaining a life beyond school. I came up with a strategy to use class time to edit, score and make written and verbal comments on student essays, while keeping the entire class engaged in the process.  Since using this strategy, my students’ SAT, ACT, and state achievement test’s writing AND reading scores have gone way up.  With each essay, the caliber of writing excels, and by the second half of the year, student essays are unique, engaging, and analytical.  And most rewarding, my students always come back to thank me, even the ones that I never thought in a million years would!

 

Throughout the process, I constantly remind students how much they’ll appreciate this later, that I’m doing this for them, and that they will have an easier time next year, in college or tech. school, and in their future careers.  I really “sell” it at first, and then they begin to own it once they start to see results.  I use this process for all writing assignments, including research papers and timed essays.

 

Before the first essay

  • Set a tone of respect within the classroom; the objective is to grow as writers; we’re all in this together; every student will read their own essays aloud
  • Discuss Writing Don’ts Handout
  • Review the researched argument paper rubric 2011 (possibly use Color Mark strategy)
  • Review model essays and scores/grades
  • Practice scoring essays and giving constructive feedback

 

Writing Don'ts

  • Use second person "you"
  • Use in conclusion, in addition to, firstly, secondly, thirdly, as transitional or introductory phrases.
  • Use the word a lot and if you do, it is two words!
  • Misuse apostrophes.  To show possession use an apostrophe; to make something plural, do not use an apostrophe.
  • Mix up homophones like their, there, they’re, its, it’s, you’re, your
  • Use any other font except Times 12 point
  • Forget a title
  • Forget to indent your paragraphs
  • Forget a proper MLA heading
  • Add an extra space between paragraphs
  • Forget to use italics and quotation marks appropriately
  • Use ellipses, hyphens or dashes unless you know what you’re doing
  • Focus on more than one topic per paragraph
  • State the obvious: I think, I feel, In my opinion
  • Use etc. and if you do, spell it out (et cetera)

 

Revise (before students read aloud, give them the opportunity to improve their essay)

  • A writing grade (weighted 40%) is given for having a completed, typed rough draft on due date; students quickly learn how important writing assignments are to their grade
  • Writer’s Workshop (for all non-timed essays)
  • Editors use separate colors to edit and comment, sign name in that color
  • Editors lose or gain bonus points for low and high quality editing

 

Final Essay Format

Depending on the technology available to the teacher, students bring one of the following:

  • One handwritten copy if it’s a timed writing
  • One hard copy (if teacher has a document camera)
  • One hard copy and a saved copy on USB (if teacher has a projector—teacher projects it from their computer to big screen)
  • Two copies (if teacher has nothing, but a pen)

 

Reading the Essays

The Timed Essay

  • Students sit in a circle with writing rubric and one sheet of lined paper (all student names listed)
  • Review writing prompt and its purpose and remind students that this process will make them better writers
  • Each student reads their essay aloud (if there is a document camera available, teacher edits in real time while student reads from screen); others confidentially score and give verbal feedback (they write score on sheet of paper)
  • Teacher confidentially scores, but gives both written and verbal feedback
  • Student receives one score from teacher (weighted more heavily) and one averaged score from peers (weighted less, but still a grade)
  • As students get better at scoring, teacher can speed up the process by handing out the timed writings one per person, reading them silently, scoring and rotating (teacher is in the rotation); names can be removed from essays and/or switch classes so that students’ scores are completely unbiased).
  • High scoring essays are read aloud and discussion about why they were top essays
  • All scores are averaged together for each student (a student aide can do this)

 

The Non-Timed Essay (1-3 pages, Narrative, Description, Persuasive, etc.)

Each student is assigned two people to give written scores and feedback and two to give verbal feedback; rotate for every reader

  • Students sit in a circle with writing rubric and one sheet of lined paper torn in half. Students write rubric criteria on each half sheet. They use each half to score and give written commentary on two specified peer essays
  • Each student is assigned two people to give written scores and feedback and two to give verbal feedback; rotate for every reader
  • Each student reads their essay aloud either from screen or hard copy, while selected students and teacher assess
  • Teacher edits a copy in real time and gives written and verbal feedback; final score is given confidentially; it is best if teacher has a document camera, that way all students can see the editing marks and comments AND read along with peers
  • Student receives one score from teacher (weighted more heavily) and one averaged score from peers (weighted less, but still a grade)
  • Students are able to reflect on all written comments and feedback
  • Students review past essay comments and editing marks each time so that they don’t make the same mistakes and their writing improves

Research Paper

  • Students sit in a circle with writing rubric and one sheet of lined paper torn in half. Students write rubric criteria on each half sheet. They use each half to score and give written commentary on two specified peer essays
  • Each student is assigned two people to give written scores and feedback and two to give verbal feedback; rotate for every reader
  • Each student reads their essay aloud either from screen or hard copy, while selected students and teacher assess
  • With a lengthy paper, it is imperative that all students have a visual of the essay, whether that means projecting it on the screen via saved copy on USB or handing out hard copies.  The teacher MUST have their own hard copy! Again, the document camera is the ideal medium.
  • Teacher edits a copy in real time and gives written and verbal feedback; final score is given confidentially; it is best if teacher has a document camera, that way all students can see the editing marks and comments AND read along with peers
  • Student receives one score from teacher (weighted more heavily) and one averaged score from peers (weighted less, but still a grade)
  • Students are able to reflect on all written comments and feedback

 

Am I wasting valuable class time?

  • NO!! And you’re gaining back your life! Students get so much out of this format that they become the teacher by the end of the first semester and their writing vastly improves.
  • Students are more accountable for their writing by, not only their teacher, but their peers as well! They are blown away by each other's skills and look forward to the readings and all of the feedback.
  • At the end of every year, students say, “The process was painful at times, but thank you; I’m a better writer now and essays aren’t so intimidating anymore.”

 

How much class time will this take?

These are approximations for a class of 25:

  • Timed Essays, read aloud =80 minutes
  • Timed Essays, fast version =20–30 minutes
  • Essays (1–3 pages) =2 days, 80 minutes each
  • Research Papers (5+ pages) =3 days, 80 minutes each

 

What will I possibly do with all my free time?

  • Basket weaving
  • Date night!
  • Prove to your children that the pen IS detachable from your hand.
  • Give your pets the attention they deserve.
  • Get a RELAXING pedicure and leave those darn essays at home!

Outcomes