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A Better Alternative To Grading Student Writing

by Terry Heick

This is a quick post that just occurred to me while writing about–well, writing about writing.

I was brainstorming ways to use technology to help students improve their writing and realized that over and over again, I was thinking about the process of writing and how crucial it is to quality of whatever the writer is left with at the end.

Great writing starts at the beginning, whether with an idea or need or purpose of social context or spark of inspiration. Whatever it is that ’causes’ the writing to begin–what’s wrought there at the beginning is kind of like a lump of clay. Without that clay, not much could happen and the quality of that clay matters; its texture and purity and consistency and overall makeup has a lot to say about what it’s able to produce. In large part, what you’re able to create with that clay depends on the quality and quantity of that clay.

But even more important than the clay is what you do with it. It’s a process of shaping and reshaping. It’s a matter of vision and perseverance as much as it is inspiration and talent. The quality of the events and of the sequence of events after that initial lump of clay is wrought matters more than the quality of the class itself.

Because writing is procedural and mechanical, skills and strategies and habits and tricks and so on are all hugely important. Writing is often seen as a matter of inspiration and talent and love and fiction and storytelling and big words and style, but the truth is that those iconic ‘things’ are a product of the skills and strategies and habits and tricks–and the mindset they’re applied with.

Put another way, the writing process itself is everything. It doesn’t have to be used the same way every time and that’s another conversation for another day and I only mention it briefly because the worst thing you can do is read this post and then go shove the ‘diligence of the writing process’ down the throats of would-be writers/students who only need to believe they can write and then they opportunity to do so with in the company of nurturing.

All this leads me to the title. Instead of grading the end result of that process (the finished process), grade the quality of that student’s use of the writing process–ideally based on their specific strengths and weaknesses and the purpose and audience of the writing assignment itself.

Because ultimately, the goal of teaching writing isn’t for students to have created a lot of quality writing in your classroom.

In fact, the goal of teaching writing isn’t even to be able to use the writing process.

Rather, the goal of teaching writing is to create in each student the habit of and tendency to use the writing process to create quality writing that improves their life.

If this is at least partly true, then a viable alternative to grading student writing is to grade how the student uses the writing process itself in a way that makes sense to them.

And in a way that shows ownership of that writing process that will endure long after they’ve left your classroom.

*previously published at

1 Comment

  1. Roz

    What is the writing process that you use with your students? There are so many.


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