Offer your students a rewrite opportunity to ensure that they are learning the proper writing skills for today’s digital world.
So you gave the assignment. You accepted the pile of papers turned in – electronic or otherwise. And you graded. But, as you were reading through the papers, you noticed something: a couple of these papers just don’t seem to be right. It looks like a few students either misread the instructions, misapplied the instructions, or had a less-than-stellar day when they typed.
The effort is there, but the result is not. What can you do? Issue a rewrite. Give the students another chance to do it right – maybe even with a little help. Here are some steps to take, to give students their best chance of reaching their best grade possible.
Getting it Right – This Time
Why offer a rewrite? Because the goal of a writing exercise is to help students learn to do something. Maybe it is a method for building an argument, or learning how to use a library’s research sources. Or perhaps there is a formatting technique that will be vital for passing other classes.
Whatever the reason is for giving the assignment, the point is that there was something to be learned. And when the assignment is done incorrectly, that opportunity has been missed, which could affect the student’s success in the future, outside of your class. Giving an opportunity to rewrite the piece is not only a chance for a student to boost a grade – it’s the time to get that technique ironed into his or her memory.
Good writing skills don’t just pass the class. They open doors to good jobs, successful graduate school applications, and efficiency in the work force.
Just keep a few things in mind when issuing a rewrite: give firm deadlines for when the paper can be resubmitted, give clear directions on what you want to have altered in the next draft, and know how much credit you’re willing to give for the extra work put into the rewrite.
Give a New Due Date
When students learn that there’s a rewriting opportunity, it’s important to include the new due date. One to two weeks is usually enough for a six to ten page paper; less time may be needed – or available – for smaller papers.
Why give a firm due date? First of all, you have a lot of deadlines to juggle when you’re teaching. Pick a date that is free of other major grading challenges. That way, you’ll be able to give your full attention to the rewritten papers, instead of snagging on them as you try to push through a different stack of work.
Another thing to notice is that students pay attention to the here-and-now. When something like a rewrite or extra credit project is due at the end of the semester, more times than not, it is left undone. While this may cut down on your overall grading load, it doesn’t do the students any good – especially when papers are organized so that one builds upon the information discussed or techniques learned in the paper previously given. If one of those stepping stones is missing, it makes the next leap harder to reach. Get the rewrite done before the next paper/step is due. It makes life easier for student and teacher.
Giving students another chance to learn allows them to make the most of their time in academia.
Be Specific: What Needs to be Addressed?
When you grade a paper, have some uniform criteria that need to be met by every paper. The criteria should be explained in your assignment instructions, and carried through in your grading rubric. For example, if you’re going through an argumentative essay, your criteria could include the following:
- Are there a minimum of four quality sources? Are they cited in the text?
- Is at least one alternative given towards the main argument? Does it have a source or two backing it up?
- Does the paper demonstrate adequate grammar and usage skills?
With these steps in hand, you can mark things that are adequately done – or not. If you give full points for the sources and arguments, the student knows that there is no problem there. But if you give a zero on grammar and usage, this should be a major hint as to what needs to be corrected.
You can also add comments in the body of the paper. Either by using your editing function electronically or the old-fashioned pen method, you can mark typos, misspellings, and other errors that ate into the overall grade.
At the end of the paper, if it is needed, give more directions. For example, you could say, “The thesis idea is good. But you followed a different path with your research materials. It might be a better idea to change your thesis to better match what you found.”
How Much Is It Worth?
Let students know how much credit they can win back, if their papers are redone according to the directions. Of course, the amount of credit given back is up to you. You might consider giving back full points for everything that is corrected – except for the point that it was worth if handed in on time, or something like that.
Students want to know how much they can gain back, to figure out if it’s worth the effort. That’s understandable, as students lead busy lives. You will find some students who can’t fit it in, no matter how many points it could gain back – and those who were only a quarter of a point short of one hundred percent, but who re-submit their papers anyway.
Why Do It?
Why issue writing assignments at all? As writing teachers, we teach through what we say, and through what students do. They complete exercises to learn processes, practice techniques, and explore new fields. The groundwork that a writing teacher builds with his or her students goes on to support the writing practices that students carry for life.
Good writing skills don’t just pass the class. They open doors to good jobs, successful graduate school applications, and efficiency in the work force. If a student becomes a more careful writer because of something you required in class, that could save a life in the future – or a nation.
While it would be wonderful if students turned in every assignment perfectly, the first time, we have to be realistic. It doesn’t happen. That’s why we make allowances for bad days, misunderstandings, and plain old goof-ups. Giving students another chance to learn allows them to make the most of their time in academia. After all, that’s why they are here. They want to learn.
Louisa Danielson, B. A., M. A., teaches English composition at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. Articles by Louisa have appeared in a variety of publications, including Dialogue: the Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, South Texas English Studies, The Musical Times and several popular publications. When she isn’t writing, teaching, or grading English, Louisa likes to explore classical music.