While in Vienna, I think I made the hearts of some faculty members skip a beat – or at least beat a bit irregularly.
I suggested that they read student papers at least one time through before they pick up their pens and pencils for grading.
The idea, of course, isn’t new, but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. With time at a premium, it seems scary to spend time reading student papers without grading them. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I contend, however, that taking the time to read student papers before grading them actually makes grading easier. Once you’ve read the paper with only the goal of comprehension (and dare I suggest enjoyment), you already know what it’s about, which actually makes grading more fruitful.
Once you know what a paper is about, you can pay more attention to argument, structure, and organization. Without reading a paper all the way through before grading it, you are much more likely to only focus on grammar and mechanical concerns. Remedying grammar and mechanical concerns is vital, but helping students understand how to improve an argument will help them more. It is a waste to have a beautifully written paper that doesn’t say anything, but that is sometimes what students end up with when we simultaneously read for understanding and assessment.
Despite the heart palpitations, the faculty stayed with me, and some of them even thanked me for my ideas regarding reading and responding to student writing.