What I get paid to read

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, and in this case, that’s a conservative estimate. This is what three writing classes’ worth of end-term grading looks like, minus a few latecomers, lollygaggers, and incompletes.

The left and middle piles are from my first-year Thinking & Writing classes. Those folders contain the final version of each student’s 15- to 20-page research project, all the rough drafts that went into said project, and a final reflective essay. The small pile on the right is from my intermediate-level Expository Writing class. That stack is smaller because students submitted only final drafts of a 10-page research project, a handful of short essays, and a final reflective essay.

Grading portfolios isn’t as bad as all my complaining would suggest: it just takes a lot of time. As Jo(e) has said about watching student presentations, you learn a lot when you read research projects on topics that students are genuinely interested in, and grading papers is infinitely easier than comment on drafts. When you comment on drafts, you’re still steering the car, trying to communicate to students how they can/should improve a particular piece of writing. When you grade a portfolio, you’re riding in the car. The student is presenting their best shot at the Perfect Project, and you as teacher get to watch like a director in the audience of a one night performance. Yes, you see the mistakes; yes, you make note of them. But any improvements will wait until the next play or project: as in baseball, there’s always next year. For now, you sit back, watch the show, clap when the performance is good, and wring your hands when any given actor plays a scene differently from how you had directed it.

Ultimately, you see, it’s their show, not mine. Those portfolios on my desk? I’m just borrowing them.

Click here for last spring’s markedly different visual depiction of “Piled Higher & Deeper.” And if you want to learn even more about what I do with my first-year Thinking & Writing students, click here to read an alumni magazine article about Keene State’s new Integrated Studies program, illustrated with a picture of Yours Truly conferencing with one of last year’s first-year students. Enjoy!