As John Warner notes in Why They Can’t Write, “there’s little dispute that grades do more harm than good in helping students learn writing” (2018, p. 213). Grades are both a disincentive for students to learn and an imprecise measure of what they have learned. Students in classrooms with traditional grading practices—that is, those that privilege instructor-defined criteria—tend to focus on achieving the grade itself rather than on improving their writing and critical thinking skills. Moreover, these instructor-defined criteria privilege students who can mimic a dominant academic discourse (DAD), thereby often excluding students who are first-generation, racially/ethnically minoritized, and/or multilingual.
Asao Inoue has focused in particular on the racism inherent in grading based on a DAD. According to Inoue, “White supremacy is structured into the ways everyone reads and judges writing” (2019, p. 374). For Inoue, “white supremacy” refers to our default assumptions about grading writing rather than to the skin color of teachers or students. These assumptions are based on the “dominant, white, middle-class discourse of the classroom” (Inoue, 2019, p. 377), which is often the single standard by which all students are judged by their instructors. Instead of measuring their students by these narrow standards, Inoue argues, instructors should partner with students to understand classroom language practices, develop assessment criteria collaboratively, and interrogate how and why a classroom community judges writing.
The following alternative grading practices can help all students develop their writing:
- Collaborating with students to create rubrics (Inoue, 2019)
- Use of a single point or dimension-based rubric (Inoue, 2015)
- Engagement of students in multiple instance of peer review, including interrogation of the differing and contradictory advice that students receive from peers (Inoue, 2019)
- Use of specifications or contract grading (Middendorf, 2017)
- Assessment of students based on writing portfolios rather than on individual pieces of writing
To find out more, please attend the talks and workshops offered by Asao Inoue and John Warner during their visits to campus this spring. Inoue’s keynote, “Thinking through Standards and Other White Supremacist Practices in College” (January 30, 4-5:30), is part of the College of Arts and Sciences Radical Inclusivity Series. In his workshop earlier that same day, Inoue will help participants consider how their own classrooms’ standards for writing assignments may be unintentionally harming various students and how to combat those conditions (January 30, 12-1:30). Warner’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning keynote event, “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities,” will take place on February 21 from 12-1:30. Warner will also lead a February 20 workshop for instructors on “The Writer’s Practice: Building Assignments That Get Students Thinking and Acting Like Writers.” Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to schedule a consultation.
Works Referenced in this Blog:
Inoue, Asao. (2019). “Classroom Writing Assessment as an Antiracist Practice: Confronting White Supremacy in the Judgments of Language.” Pedagogy 19.3, pp. 373-404.
—. (2015). “Thinking about One Point Rubrics, Standards, and Dimensions.” http://asaobinoue.blogspot.com/2015/07/thinking-about-one-point-rubrics.html
Middendorf, Joan. (2017). “A Better Way to Grade.” https://blogs.iu.edu/citl/2017/06/14/a-better-way-to-grade/#.XhSt8_x7m00.
“Using Student Peer Review.” https://wac.colostate.edu/resources/teaching/guides/peer-review/.
Warner, John. (2018). Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities. Johns Hopkins UP.