Editing and grading are two sides of the same coin.
- When you edit your students’ papers, your feedback points them toward meeting the assignment’s goals and expectations. This input is a valuable part of the revising process.
- Evaluating happens after your high schooler has made all necessary revisions and turns in the final draft for a grade.
Today, we’ll look at grading—perhaps the hardest part of teaching writing for the homeschool parent. It seems like such risky business—a subjective task marked by inconsistency and wild guesses. Last week we let a certain error slip by, yet this week we red-penciled that same mistake with a vengeance.
One thing’s for sure: Arbitrary grading will never help your student become a better writer.
Homeschooling moms are relieved to learn that parts of writing can be quantified. Sure, there will always be judgment calls about clarity, content, and organization. But here’s the good news: when you see how easy it is to give a grade based on (mostly) measurable standards, your confidence will soar!
I learned how to grade high school papers by trial, error, and necessity when I first began teaching writing. Many years and hundreds of papers later, those methods have proved solid and reliable. I’m confident you’ll feel more prepared using these seven tips.
1. Use an Evaluation Form
If you’re anything like I was, you worry about under- or overcorrecting. You make stabs in the dark. Your daughter’s paper may “feel” like a B, but when she asks why she didn’t get an A, you don’t have a good answer. You simply don’t know how to tackle that final draft.
But guess what? When you use a rubric that helps with grading high school papers objectively, you’ll be miles ahead!
This can be:
- A rubric that comes with your writing program, such as the evaluation forms featured in WriteShop I and WriteShop II;
- A printable grading form you find online; or
- One you create yourself using the assignment’s standards.
2. Tell Students What to Anticipate
Before they start writing their rough drafts, your teens should already know what you’ll be looking for along the way. That way, there won’t be any bombshells when they get their final grade—a grade determined not by your random whims, but by how well they’ve met the expectations of the lesson.
3. Expect Progress
Because writing is a process, you edit earlier drafts and grade final drafts.
Remember: most papers will be much better by the end because students have revised and rewritten them at least twice. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the final drafts score consistently well. Your goal is mastery, so it’s natural to see progress and improvement from draft to draft!
4. Know What to Look for When You Grade High School Writing
GRADE FOR CONTENT
The meat of a paper is its content, which you grade according to subject matter, substance, argument, evidence, logic, or other relevant criteria.
If this is an essay, also include an evaluation of the thesis statement. In one or two sentences, the thesis should state the topic, give the purpose of the essay, and suggest the main points your student will develop in the paragraphs that follow.
A typical writing assignment goes through each of these stages:
Not every paper must jump through these hoops. For the learning experience of proper writing, only one paper at a time needs to go through the entire writing process. For example, you might evaluate a book report, science article, biography, literature essay, or history report on content alone.
GRADE FOR STYLE AND ORGANIZATION
When grading papers for style, look at the kinds of words and sentences your teen has used. Style can include things like:
An effective essay is also unified and well organized. Each paragraph in the body of the paper should begin with a topic sentence telling the main point of the paragraph. In a persuasive essay, each paragraph should begin with a sentence that makes a claim. The body of that paragraph, then, should support the claim with examples, facts, and logic.
The more solid the content, the higher the grade you can assign.
A fictional story or narrative will be organized in a different way, but it should still flow well from start to finish. For a stronger grade, this kind of prose should follow the five stages of storytelling.
GRADE FOR MECHANICS
Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence completeness fall under the heading of mechanics. A high-scoring paper should have few (if any) mechanical errors.
Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, or misplaced modifiers count against the final score, while using parts of speech and punctuation marks accurately and making sure words are correctly spelled contribute to a higher grade.
WriteShop I and II curriculum for middle and high school will not only teach your teens how to write, it will show you how to teach homeschool writing.
All WriteShop products offer schedules, tips, activities, lesson plans, and checklists that help you teach effectively and edit and grade high school writing with an objective eye. Because it’s all laid out for you, your confidence will soar!
5. Assign Points
Ah, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? When you grade high school writing, how do you decide how many points to give? You can assign/deduct points in different ways, such as:
- Content can include paragraph unity and development, subject matter, use of details and examples (40 points)
- Style can include voice, readability and sentence fluency, sentence variety, vocabulary, conciseness (40 points)
- Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (20 points)
- Content can include thesis, development of main points with facts and examples, topicality, conclusion (45 points)
- Style can include organization, clarity/fluency, sentence style and complexity, parallelism, vocabulary, use of transitions (45 points)
- Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (10 points)
6. Take Attitude into Consideration
When bad behavior persists from beginning to end—even if the paper itself has improved—you’re well within your rights to give consequences.
So if your teen’s attitude has been just awful throughout the entire writing process (e.g., unwillingness to brainstorm thoroughly, disrespect for deadlines, refusal to accept feedback or make changes), take this into account when giving points.
7. Be Flexible and Fair
What happens when you find mistakes in the final draft? As a rule, don’t penalize students for mistakes you didn’t point out earlier in the editing process. If you happened to miss something during parent editing (and therefore failed to bring it to your teen’s attention), they can only assume what they’ve written is correct.
Let’s say, for example, you didn’t catch an awkwardly written sentence in an earlier draft—but it jumps out at you in the final. As you grade the paper, you might let that one slide. Point out the error, certainly, but assure them you’re not penalizing them for your earlier oversight. Kids always appreciate fairness!
On the other hand, if they simply show carelessness with spelling or punctuation, or they write a sentence fragment when they clearly know better, you’re within your rights to deduct points accordingly.
Finally, if you’ve discussed the paper and identified ways to improve it—and the final draft reflects many positive changes—give full points whenever possible (along with kudos, of course!).
Grading high school papers doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start small. Be consistent. Cheer your kids on. Before you know it, you’ll be grading like a pro!