Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Almost Circumventing the Grading Factory


Readers of this blog might know that I work a lot with assessment, a not unsurprising interest, given that Charles Cooper was my dissertation director at the University of California, San Diego. I have also been using portfolios as an alternative grading practice virtually throughout my careers as a high school and post-secondary writing teacher. Since a good many of my rants on this blog challenge the efficacy of using grades as motivators and sorting tools (and that our job is to sort), I thought I would describe how I use portfolios to determine grades rather than averaging the grades assigned to essays, tests, and other assignments. 
I have had conversations/discussions/arguments with writing teachers who point out that by assigning any grade, regardless of my grade distribution (unless I assign everyone an A [or F]), I am still a toady of the capitalist enterprise that trains students to worship dollars through the agency of grades, an accusation to which I yield. Yes, I still assign grades. Yes, I am still a toady. Still, I work hard to help my students with their writing--and that's not only my job, it's my reason for being.
I use portfolios in an admittedly odd way. I have paid attention to Peter Elbow, Pat Belanoff, Kathy Yancey, Ed White (a co-author with Norbert Elliot of what we hope will soon become a famous book :), plug: Very Like a Whale); nevertheless, I have my own way of using portfolios--note that I use them for classroom assessment, not program assessment--the subject of our book. 
I assign grades on the basis of participation--which includes attendance (50%), mid-term portfolio (20%), and final portfolio (30%). I also tell students that if they want to know what their grades are at any time, they can see me in my office and we'll go over their work (and attendance) and discuss their grades. I'm also quite comfortable with being known as an easy grader--but I do expect them to always be in class and do all the work--and I would like to see them take some pride in what they write. It should perhaps go without saying that because I don't put grades on students' essays and other work, that doesn't mean I don't read and respond to their work--just as I like to have them read and respond to each other's work. I of course do. This in fact is something I enjoy doing (for reasons I have hammered in many of my blog posts).  
Some of my colleagues referred to above have asked how students know how well they've written if I don't grade the essays (but only respond to them). I'll just leave this remark to stand (or fall) on its own. 
Soooo. At the risk of looking like a fool, I have included below my instructions for a final portfolio. The students use an electronic portfolio (iWebfolio) to submit their work. It may look as if I'm asking the students to do a lot of work, but they have already submitted a mid-term portfolio, on which they build. Each section below corresponds to a category in iWebfolio. The e-portfolios are very easy for me to review and respond to (in fact, I enjoy doing it because by reading what my students write, I learn quite a bit about what I/we did right and what I/we did wrong). It takes me about 30 minutes to read and respond to each e-portfolio. 
WPAs interested in program assessment will see that if I have all of the teachers in our program include in their students e-portfolios at least two categories (Myself as a Writer and Goals of the Course) that we can structure a robust program assessment in which a positive attitude toward writing is an important objective. 
I actually give the instructions below in a wiki that resembles the portfolio I want them to construct. But for the purposes of this blog, I have reproduced the instructions as a page. I hope you find this interesting.
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Introduction: Imagine that you are me and that at some point, some well-intentioned administrator might wonder about my grading practices. I would like to be able to give her for each student a fair example of the student's work and the student's reflection on what he or she has so far learned in the course, given our objectives. So imagine that your portfolio is that evidence of the grade that I would like to argue for in response to this well-intentioned administrator.

Introduction
In your Introduction, you should introduce your portfolio. Imagine an administrator other than me is going to read it (which in some cases, will be true).  This would be a good place to tell her (my dean) just a little bit about you, something about your major, your hopes for the kind of career that college might help you prepare for, and some statement about how you have created this portfolio to demonstrate the kind of work you have done and what you have so far learned about writing in this class.
Keep those goals in mind as you explain what you have done and learned in this class. To organize your response, I have created some categories with specific instructions.  Please look at the pages to the right, beginning with "Attendance."

Attendance
Just include some note about your attendance both for the face-to-face and online sessions. You'll probably be able to amend what you wrote in your mid-quarter evaluation. Most of you have been here every day and participated in all online sessions. I am going to add my own perspective: success often depends on being there. In this course, I emphasized community: we show up, you show up.

Yourself as a Writer
What did you think of yourself as a writer when you came into the class?  What do you think of yourself as a writer now--and your relationship to writing? I know that the move from our largely personal writing (like our inventory of our writing experiences) to the 4th academic essay on education and identity formation may have introduced some difficulties in your relationship with writing. You might want to include in this discussion some reflection on the kinds of writing you/we like to do and the kinds we sometimes have to perform in our academic and professional environments.

Class Journals
Just give me a little advice on class journals. They are the way I keep in touch with you.

Compendium
After you have followed the directions for collecting all that you have written, come back up to the top of this page and tell your readers what you think about the writing you have done in here.
I would like to have this reflection be at the top of the compendium :).

First collect your initial post to one of the writing tasks, and underneath that, all the posts you made in response to what others had written. 
Note: Here’s the easy way to collect your response on any forum:
Go to the Forum and click on the top box on the left (Thread Actions/Date)
That should put a check mark on all threads.
Click on “Collect” (to the right of “Thread Actions”)
Then Sort by “Author’s Last Name.” All your responses will be grouped.
Repeat that for each of the writing tasks we did.

It should look something like this:
Post for:  Inventory of Writing Experiences
Responses to others: 
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
......(that means and so on)
Post for:  Subjective School Experiences
Responses to others: 
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
...
Post for:  Responses to "Correctness"
Responses to others: 
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
 ....
Post for:  Responses to Anyon
Responses to others: 
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
 ....
Post for:  Responses to Tate
Responses to others:
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
 ....
Post for:  Inventory of Research Experiences
No Responses
Post for: Third Essay on Educational Experiences
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
 ....
Post for: Writing our 3rd essay on Education and Identity Formation
No responses
Post for: Reading and Being Read—3rd Essay
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
 ....
Post for Next Essay Topic: Outline
No responses

Post for 4th Essay
Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
 ....

Post for: Writing the 4th Essay (We didn’t have time for responses here, but a few of you responded to each other).
 Response 1
Response 2
Response 3
Response 4
 .... 
Ok: I think I pretty much have all the major work we did in here. Email me if there’s something I missed.

Notes You Have Taken
In this section, paste any notes you have taken from others and that you have gleaned from your research on the Internet--important notes about the relationship between our educational experiences and who we are, what we think of ourselves, our relationship to learning, and perhaps to our society. I will be interested in which excerpts you thought were important.

Analysis of Writing
Please post a paragraph or two of
  1. What you wrote in response to Subjective School Experiences
  2. 4th Essay
Then give me about 30 minutes in which you think and write about the similarities and differences here regarding you as a writer (as you are revealed in these different kinds of writing tasks).  You might consider differences/similarities in your voice, your attitude toward the writing task, your attitudes toward who your readers might be, whether it’s fake or real writing. I’m very interested in your analysis here of who you are as a writer and how you met these different writing tasks.

Favorite Thing You Have Written in Here

In this section, just post the favorite thing you have written in our class--This could be one of the essays, a response you have written to other, to one of our readings, an inventory--anything.  And tell us why you picked this one.


Goals of the Course

1. To investigate research—and the theory of research
2. To improve our clarity and fluency—fluency in the sense of writing easily and the flow of writing
3. To improve style, grammar, and punctuation
4. To improve our integration and evaluation of information
5. To explore the links between rhetorical situation and when claims need to be supported by evidence, and warrants
6. To explore the connection between writing and audience
7. To encourage a positive attitude toward writing
I realize that we have explored some of these goals more deeply than others (and some explorations have been tacit, some overt). But tell me what you may have learned about each of these goals--and how well we succeeded as a class in exploring them.
Note: by "rhetorical situation," we generally mean the writing situation: the demand for writing (why is this thing being written in the first place?), the writer's relationship to the subject, the reader's relationship to the subject, the writer's relationship to the reader(s), the reader(s) relationship to the writer--things like that.
Regarding 5: The relationship between claims and evidence are probably obvious.  I know we haven't covered "warrants." They refer to the logic that ties evidence to claims--why is this evidence for the claim? You might claim that the sun goes around the earth (claim). As evidence, you could cite that's what I see everyday.  Your warrant would be, because I see a phenomenon, that's what it is.  (You are of course leaving out knowledge of limited perspective, the position from which you "see" something, relegating you to the category of "flatlander.")
Similarly, as I have noted: You could claim that the United States is the best country to live in.  Your evidence is that everyone you know says that. Your warrant is that if everyone you know says something, then it is true--relegating you again to the category of flatlander.

3 comments:

  1. I appreciate your approach to grading. I've increasingly turned to portfolios as a method of evaluating students, as well. Portfolios have been especially useful in an advanced writing course--Rhetoric of Advertising. In this course, their portfolio is a three-part assignment that includes the ongoing development and revision of "professional online identities," a reflective essay, and a final presentation. Both their presentations and their profiles will be assessed through peer calibrated grading since these elements are "public." I also include students in the assessment process through a crowdsourced rubric. I think it is incredibly useful to include students in the assessment process because it reinforces the importance of active participation in an intellectual community and enables them to experience the complexity of evaluation/reviewing. Here's the assignment sheet if you are interested!

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HXtWXsIjNMiMss0RWR5HSTjrndz5AddKlvvvEln2tNw/edit?usp=sharing

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  2. Thanks so much for that sheet, Alex. I'll look at it. I'm a little looser with respect to evaluation--but I can link your notion of crowdsourcing rubrics to Ira Shor's (a la Freire) practice of co-construction of syllabi. Anything we do to make students partners in our collaborative learning project seems to me to be heading in the right direction.

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