Grading all forms of student writing contains elements of subjectivity. In creative writing classes, though, it becomes especially difficult to reconcile course goals with student talent and effort. By using rubrics, assessing student revisions, incorporating self-evaluation and implementing portfolio evaluation, you can both inspire creative freedom in students and give honest evaluations of their work.
Although no two creative writing projects will look exactly the same, using a rubric, a specific set of evaluation criteria, can help you clarify your expectations for students. Rubrics also easily point students to the areas of their stories that need work, streamlining the revision process, indicates creative writing teacher Yvonne Blomer. (See Reference 4, pg 9-10) For example, a short story rubric might include sections for character development, plot, description, voice and language. To keep students focused on the revision process instead of what letter grade they receive, you can replace traditional letter grades with descriptors, such as "good," "satisfactory" and "weak."
Risks and Rewrites
Many beginning creative writers assume that all good stories reach instant perfection on the first draft. In reality, writing is a process that often requires multiple drafts, experimentation and learning from mistakes. High school creative writing teacher Michael Fiorello believes that students should be graded based on commitment to revision, doing multiple drafts and even completely rewriting the story if necessary. (See Reference 1) Having students turn in multiple drafts of the paper or keeping your own notes on previous drafts they've submitted can help you assess the depth of their revision and see improvement between different versions.
The Artist's Analysis
Rather than focusing your evaluation solely on the story, you can add greater objectivity by incorporating an artist's statement, a brief essay where students reflect on their writing process. This assignment can help students think critically about how they write, assess their growth and improvement and explain the creative decisions they made. According to creative writing teachers Diane Bekurs and Susan Santoli, requiring students to write about their story's creation lets them take ownership of the process and challenges them to explain why they chose to tell the story they did. (See Reference 3, pg 2; Reference 2)
Another common grading practice in creative writing classes is the portfolio evaluation. Throughout the semester, the instructor provides frequent constructive feedback on how students can improve their stories. At the end of the term, students submit portfolios of their final drafts, which receive a grade based on their quality of work for the whole semester. National University creative writing instructor Ron Roebuck indicates that portfolios allow students to experience greater creative freedom and receive frequent comments on their progress. While grading portfolios can be overwhelming, they can also lead to less student anxiety about grades and stronger work at the end of the semester. (See Reference 2)
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