Grading in a High School Creative Writing Class

I am not a fan of grades. 

“But we are,” my students whine, asking me daily to separate the sheep from the goats on a 100 point scale.  “So are our parents and those colleges out there.” In a world of standardized testing, college admission requirements, and GPA wars, I am stuck with awarding grades.

However, a difficult question for most creative writing teachers is: How do I “grade” a creative product? While the mechanics of the English language can be scored for correctness, creativity can’t be graded in any quantitative way. I can, however, use the necessary evil of grades to develop the discipline and habits of master writers in my students while they are a captive audience in my class.

I do use traditional elements in my creative writing classes, such as reading quizzes and grammar exercises. However, because a student’s creativity is complex and ever-evolving, I rely mostly on multidimensional grading tools, such as student self-reflection, self-and peer-rating scales, and occasional tests of other skills that support creativity such as task, time and stress management.

One of the tools I use to engender writerly habits is a writer’s notebook.  The notebook becomes a depository for all the scrawled and tortured starts, flights of fancy and dry heaves that will eventually become drafts of something.  Their notebook also becomes their textbook, an active chronicle of the information gleaned within the walls of this classroom: poetry transcriptions, daily craft lessons, reader responses, grammar exercises, and writing exercises, etc. I score these notebooks based on completion and by the degree to which the student engages in the writing.  The requirement is 30 full pages each six weeks.

Another tool I use is the writing proposal and timeline. All writers must learn how to set personal goals for the completion of projects. To develop this skill in students, I require they propose writing projects with an accompanying timeline that outlines daily goals.  I meet with students periodically during the six-weeks term to make sure they are on track with the goals they have established. The proposals must be typed, a minimum of 300 words and must outline the project completely. I grade these on a pass/fail basis, but if a proposal is too ambitious or too lax, I allow students to re-submit proposals as many times as they would like.

Another tool I use is a self-reflection that must accompany all final drafts. Students award themselves a grade on all final projects and reflect on several questions, such as: What was my original vision for this piece of writing?  How did I change my vision as the writing processed? Am I satisfied with the final project? Why or why not? What did I learn about myself as a writer as a result of this project? Where am I going to publish, present, produce or perform this piece?           

And finally, another assessment tool I use is an activity I call a “community score.”  Since students present a first draft to the class for critique, they then judge the final draft based on how the piece has evolved or been transformed from the first draft.  Students award their peers grades on a scale from 1-20 using the below rubric. I add all the scores together and they receive the average as a grade.  I also use this rubric to score their final drafts as well.