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Grading College Papers

One of my High School teachers told me she takes the grade’s on an assignment, charts them and those grades cluster: A’s then B’s then C’s and so on.

Part way through my first semester grading college papers, I noticed something strange.¬†Even though this was a class for upper level college humanity majors, it was clear quite a few of these students didn’t know how to write a basic paper.

A paper is, is a bit like a lawyer making a case in court: it’s supposed to prove or show something. To do that, it has to actually start, preferably in one place, and get somewhere else (in an at least vaguely connected fashion) while backing it up with some evidence (teachers call those footnotes).

But, by the second paper, the grade clusters showed a bunch of students couldn’t even do that. What were basically english majors couldn’t write a basic high school paper. So, all these students needed to do to get a C was to start one place and get somewhere else without dropping me in the Grand Canyon while throwing a few footnotes my way. That’s it.

If I expect that out of one of my students, I’m kind of stuck with it as a rule when I write and publish. Some writing really does need evidence like footnotes. If I’m claiming Elvis is alive and well because I saw it on a webcam, I’m going to provide a link. If I’m analyzing the first album by an obscure Dallas band from decades ago, I’m going to try and give you links to some of their songs so you can listen for yourself.