A blog post from Pedagogy Unbound that offers recommendations and ideas for dealing with the paper load: “So Many Papers, So Little Time.”
This suggestion caught my eye as a good strategy for establishing a focus on audience and purpose for the writing assignment–that is, a way to get students to think about the audience and purpose for their writing (and not just for your assignment). These are important, best-practice elements of writing process that we emphasize in our guidelines for Writing Intensive courses as well as first-year writing courses.
Eliminate unnecessary tasks. You don’t want to waste your time grading an essay from a student who obviously didn’t follow instructions, or who has written 300 words on a cocktail napkin. The key here is to put in a little more work early on. Make sure students clearly understand the assignment, and what is expected of them. State explicitly what you’re looking for, and on what criteria they will be graded. Are your students able to recognize good work? Do they know what a good paper looks like? An exercise like the one I suggested last month, in which students review examples of assignments from past years and then discuss the reasoning behind each grade, can go a long way toward getting rid of unnecessarily terrible papers—the ones that always take forever to grade.
Set up pre-writing conferences. If you have time, those conferences can also help stamp out small problems before they become big ones. If time constraints mean you can’t meet with students individually, try breaking them into groups to discuss each others’ drafts and plans. You can create a simple checklist for each group to go through: Does everyone have a thesis statement? Has everyone found appropriate sources? While the groups are working, walk around the room and keep an eye out for any red flags.
We want students to understand the writing assignment–the argument, the research, the essay, whatever the genre of the writing–as having a live purpose. This makes for better writing, and for better learning. One way we can do that is to expand the audience (as this suggestion does with reviewing past examples of student writing, and creating an audience in the class) and to focus on the purpose of the paper as part of the class discussion, earlier in the process.