What do teachers think when they grade written assignments?
I think most student papers probably fall between the two extremes: (EXCELLENT) so clever and grammatically glorious that teachers glow with approval, and (*&^%?!) so disappointing they don’t know how to grade it fairly without dipping it in red paint and placing it solemnly atop a funeral pyre.
Just like in fiction writing, I consider my professor (the audience) when I write for school. Also, I’m generally more interested in how well I can produce an end result versus the actual grade (an A comes with good work anyway so it works out; the only difference is the focus).
In essence, written assignments are opportunities to get valuable feedback from an audience that is insanely well read and has loads of writing experience (graduate school profs have PhD’s – a resource not to be wasted).
Medieval Humanities (example of writing for the audience, from my A.A.)
The term paper was allowed to be about any subject of our choosing as long as it was related to the class. Our prof had taught Medieval Humanities for yeeeeears (he regularly participated in festivals/reenactment events and had the flowing knightly hair to prove it) and probably saw the same term paper topics all the time. I wanted to give him something… atypical.
My chosen topic: how socioeconomic developments of medieval Europe influenced the birth of Marxist thought and enabled the rise of 20th century single-party states.
After handing back our graded papers, he took a moment before lecture to say he’d never had a class like ours. We had collectively surprised him (Ha! Group effort! Even better!). It was an evening class so most of us were older and had previous degrees & careers, which raised the overall writing quality. (He mentioned 2 papers specifically: a genius paper on Lancelot and mine. That was literally the 2nd time a teacher had ever complimented my writing – it made me extra happy.) I wish I could’ve read Lancelot-guy’s paper, though.
Inspired by an Audience of One
Recently the professor of my macronutrient biochemistry course gave out the midterm assignment with instructions stressing a word limit on responses (quite short, quite). She explained the word limits were meant to challenge us to be selective with our explanations and express ourselves in a concise and organized way because, more than facts, she was grading our ability to communicate.
It seems like a given but I think she’s probably the only professor to ever say it like that, and it made a difference. She transformed the paper from a flat assignment into a challenge (communication intrigues me) which made it so much cooler. (I turned in that paper 2 weeks ago. I’m excited and nervous to find out how I did. On the communication part. I wanna know what she thinks – how’d I do?)
For the One
The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) has contests which list the judges’ names.
(NOTE: I don’t presume I could win or even place in any contest. I consider myself an amateur writer because I have no formal writing degree – I look up to people with Creative Writing Bachelors or Masters. I wonder about their knowledge, skills, and resources. My background is the sciences; heck, I’m studying nutrition. With that in mind, winning really isn’t on my mind when it comes to contests, however they do present a unique situation.)
I feel as though knowing the names gives the audience an identity. If I submit something, it’d be for that person. Mister Judge. He alone will read it. (Not “might read it”, not “might read some of it”; he’ll read all of it.) Like my professors, a guaranteed audience of one.
To create something he couldn’t possibly have seen before and that he’ll have no choice but to be different for having read – THAT’s the challenge. (Whether or not I can pull it off, it’d be great practice.) Made me look at the judge’s name and think: “Sir. Let me tell you a story.”