Friday 25 May 2012

Marking within the academy

We’re well into the marking season now. This serves to remind me that marking creative writing, within the academy, is about more than raw talent. Some with raw talent are still only getting mediocre marks. Some who are willing to learn but whose work has some way to go are getting better marks.
At my institution, within my subject area, we look at a variety of areas:
Task  Has the student completed everything and in the way we expected? We pose a five mark (out of a hundred) penalty for any missing element and pro rata for only partially completed elements. Students can then fail to gain marks in areas that deal with the missing element. So, for example, a missing bibliography may lose them five marks and make their score in Writerly Reading and Research about 35%.
Expression This is an area where a student might have some talent and may not be relying on what we have taught them. Does their prose / poetry / dialogue flow? However, it can be improved: through more practice and through extensive reading.               
Technical skills A good mark in this area may come from the student being able to apply what they’ve learn n a particular module. For example, in my Writing Novels for Young People module, I’m delighted to see people getting pace into their novel extracts, drawing characters that look like young adults and maybe pushing a few boundaries.  Plus much more. However, I also expect to see evidence of skills they’ve learnt elsewhere – like how to show instead of tell.
Writerly reading and research This is usually about the annotated bibliography. Students are expected to supply a bibliography and make comments about the books they have read. I expect at least the set books on the course to appear, a good mixture of primary and secondary resources and meaningful comments on what they have learnt about writing from the books they have read. However, they don’t have to agree with them but if they don’t, they should produce convincing arguments against them.       
Style This, like expression, is less teachable and rather must be learnt. Exposure to good writing and continued practice again help. There is something here, also, about, appropriateness for the content and consistency. We are approaching voice, which is actually very hard to get right. Still practice makes perfect.
Reflection This usually refers to a self-assessment students produce and the drafts they submit alongside their final piece. In the self-assessment I look for deep insights into how this particular genre works and a writer’s understanding of their own process. I look for evidence of a sound drafting process.
Writing skills We expect good grammar, good spelling and good punctuation. We expect effective use of words and well constructed sentences. We expect controlled language and tight writing UNLESS an aspect of style calls for something else.
Presentation We expect correctly formatted work (industry standard) and correctly completed references (academic standard). Dialogue must be set out correctly and paragraphing must be appropriate. How does one achieve “excellent”? Maybe by supplying extra bits of thoughtfulness, starting with an industry standard cover sheet.        
So no, raw talent isn’t the only thing. And anyway, talent that is still raw needs to be honed, in or out of the academy.       

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