In my writing workshop this week one of the things we did was review thesis statements that past students of mine have written. I asked students to identify the prompt the thesis responded to; evaluate the quality of the thesis based on some standards we had established as a class; offer suggestions for improvement; and finally, forecast a grade for the overall paper. Not surprisingly, all of my students accurately predicted the grades that the papers ultimately received. This is powerful information. It means that students internalize a grading rubric; they understand an essay’s components even if they don’t have a mastery of them, and know that the use—or misuse—of these components largely determines paper grades. Bringing to cognition this awareness is what’s needed. If students can analyze their own writing as they do others, even at the basic level of suggesting a grade for what they are planning on turning in, then they gain an opportunity to improve it, and consequently, their grades.
In this same workshop, when I asked students whether they ever asked themselves what grade they thought a specific paper would receive before they turned it in, one of them said she’d never thought to do that before. Yet doing just that—assessing one’s own writing before turning it in for a grade, is a great way to begin to identify areas for improvement. If one starts with giving the writing assignment a grade, then the next step is to try to understand why: is the thesis too general? Does the essay lack strong evidence? Could it be better organized or could more specific language be used? Do I need to proofread? These are assessments that most of us can make, with some level of confidence. And from there change can happen, either by independently making revisions if one knows how or by getting assistance, such as from a tutor at HEOP.
So the next time you are preparing to turn in a writing assignment for a grade, take the time to evaluate it yourself. And give yourself enough time to make changes if the grade you would give it doesn’t meet the grade you want.