Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors A Break

So as I was working this past weekend, I tried to do what I ask my of my students as they write their assignments, to be reflective about their process and increase their awareness of why they’re doing what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. When they’re summarizing someone else’s argument, I need to assess if they’re being true to the original author's intent.The most recent assignment was to first summarize someone else’s argument, and then respond to that with an argument of their own. At a basic level, I’m trying to decode their meaning. In their response, I’m assessing their evidence and examples. Is what they’re saying well-expressed grammatically and mechanically? Does the writing have appropriate flow, in that each idea links up with the one previously and the one to follow in a way that meets audience needs, attitudes, and knowledge?My feedback must be as cognizant of process as it is of product.

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The student usually knows that one of these is right and one is wrong, but has chosen not to address this problem.

In this case, my feedback needs to be different, and I remind them of the value and importance of polish and proofreading, how when we aren’t sure of something, we are obligated to look it up, rather than wing it.

To some degree, the better and more knowledgeable one gets at grading and feedback, the longer it takes.

There are no efficiencies, no shortcuts that don't also compromise student learning.

The two most cognitively taxing things I do in my life are try to write novels and to grade student writing when the purpose of that grading is to help students become better at writing. Doing it requires me to be simultaneously fully engaged with both my conscious and subconscious minds while never letting one wrest too much control from the other.

It’s like driving a car where you have to keep your eye on the road right in front of you while having the other on a Google Maps satellite view of your final destination, while also not actually knowing your final destination, or if there even is a destination, or even if you’re driving car at all because that car might be a unicorn, or a can opener, who knows? Part of why it’s not getting easier is because I know a lot more about what I should be trying to accomplish when I grade essays.I realized that for each sentence of my students’ writing, on a surface level, I’m asking myself a series of (mostly unconscious) questions. As long as everything is humming along and I keep answering “yes,” things go quickly, but when the answer is no, complications ensue.If I don’t understand what they’re saying, I have additional questions. Do they not understand the original text they’re working from? Do they understand the original text, but there is a gap between that understanding and the expression on the page in communicating that understanding?I’m going to try to illustrate this with a very small, even trivial error in the context of the larger assignment, and the more important concerns of content, but I believe it helps illuminate the complicated thinking necessary for me to offer appropriate feedback.Let’s say a student has formatted the title of an article (according to MLA guidelines) incorrectly.Are they not reading the source material carefully? The same error committed by two different students may require a different response.Are they settling for conveying the “gist” when the “gist” won’t do? A student who is highly proficient at writing, but makes a “careless” error (like subject/verb agreement), may need a (loving), kick in the butt like “You didn’t read this out loud to yourself, did you?Do they have some deeper issue at the sentence writing level that is clouding their meaning? Are they losing awareness of the specific needs, attitudes, and knowledge of their audience? ” A student whose skills are not as developed and has made the error because they're not sure of the rule may need more detailed instruction on the nature of the error and guidance on where to find additional help in learning those rules.Are they clinging to old modes like the five-paragraph essay? In addition to the above, I’m trying to prioritize which issues to address and which to let go, as research shows that too much feedback can overwhelm the student and leave them paralyzed as to what they should attend to going forward.Anyway, I find it difficult[1] and because of this difficulty, my success at the act is limited[2]. I’ve graded thousands of student essays at this point. In graduate school, in my first encounter with student writing, I thought my job was to correct errors, leaving my students’ blue books laced with red marks.I didn’t really consider what would happen once I returned these documents.


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