Sunday, 26 December 2010

Marking a Writer’s Response

Our first year students, on a core creative writing module, have to submit a “Writer’s Response”. This is worth 30% of the marks, and they have to discuss one of the two autobiographical texts we have studied and one of the poet’s they study.
These are new creative writing students and they are not yet used to reading as writers. There are some very good literary criticism essays. There are some very interesting personal accounts. There are very few that are good “Writer’s Responses” with only a few students beginning to comment as writers. We do have to remember that our students come to creative writing unskilled. They have probably not done any creative writing since infant school and even where they might have at junior school, they were probably encouraged to use lots of adjectives and adverbs. We allow and perhaps even encourage a more personal account but students seem to have interpreted this to mean they have an opportunity to give very personal and rather judgemental commentaries about the texts.
Common faults have included referring to Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid as a novel, run-on sentences, comma splices, general overwriting and in some cases, surprisingly, since most of our students have B or higher in English A-Level, incorrect punctuation. Nevertheless, thus far there has been the normal range of marks. Mainly 2.1s with a few firsts and thirds, with the few fails and near fails being mainly for technical reasons such as not submitting the whole assignment or missing out the bibliography. It was disappointing that many students failed to reference correctly – especially as very clear guides are issued on the school Blackboard (our VLE) site. Perhaps we need to stress it more.
This is also the first time that students submitted electronically. This gives a plagiarism detection tool. It also means we can mark electronically and I have experimented with doing that this time. There is much that is good about it – that the students can download the results themselves, that they stand a chance of being able to read my writing and that neither the snow nor the office procedures are a deterrent to the work being delivered quickly to those who need to mark it. It works less well in that it is incompatible with the administrative procedures in place. However, this is caused mainly by a resistance to going paperless. I fear I am in a minority. Most of my colleagues do not like on-screen marking.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Marking and Snow

I was so absorbed in my marking yesterday that I did not notice the snow. Aware that I have a busy weekend ahead involving a fair amount of travelling and that I’d be teaching on our MA course until 8.00 p.m., I thought I was keeping an eye open.
“Did you see the snow?” asked one colleague. “Great big fluffy flakes. I thought it was going to stick.”
I hadn’t seen a single drop.
A quick phone call home established that it had snowed all afternoon and had reached a good six inches but then it had all melted again. We seem to be in a hole once more.
Could it be that it only snowed on one side of the building? Or that I was so absorbed in my work I didn’t notice? I did keep looking out of the window, but I guess it was only every so often – and just at the times it wasn’t snowing.
I’ve brought home three full bags of marking. I remember doing that last year as well. They’re promising fuel shortages now, so perhaps a wise thing to do. Let it snow, let snow, let it snow!
The marking is absorbing. I grappled with two different pieces of coursework yesterday. One was a Writers’ Response, and I’m fascinated that I am marking the assignment electronically. There is something very clear and neat about the way you can annotate the work. And if you find a tricky one – I actually found two or three tricky ones – you can quickly get another colleague to take a look. However, you cannot attach our cover sheets and you have to give them the mark out of 30 or 35 or whatever and not the mark out of 100 that we normally give. However, the latter may be down to how I set it up in the first place. We learn as we go along.
I’ve also been marking an evaluative essay from my Introduction to Children’s Literature module. I’ve marked about half of the scripts and the marks cover the normal range with no fails so far. In every case I’m pleased to note that the students seem to have thought long and hard about their texts. The biggest disappointment was that some did not include a bibliography. It clearly states that this is needed in the module handbook. But then, do they read the module handbooks? A surprising number of students thought we had a class Week 12. I always tell them that getting the mechanics of submission correct is the easy bit, even if it is a bit boring. Even one or two of our best students failed here. That does make me ask the question, though; do I need to make it all a little less complex?