Join the Program in Writing and Rhetoric’s very own Kimberly Towers-Kubik as she delves into the belly of the beast: the draft. How should one assign drafts? Assess them? Part one of her four piece series will begin with the basics: an exploration of the pros and pitfalls of different modes of assigning and grading drafts.
A Monster of a Draft (Part One)
by Kimberly Towers-Kubik
As I sit here, pondering and planning my curriculum for next semester, I yet again hit that brick wall that is ‘the draft.’ Every semester, I have reinvented how I conceptualize the draft: its place in terms of my grading policy, its merit in terms of purpose and usefulness, its place today in this age of technology, etc. As I near yet another reinvention, I’d like to share my thoughts in a few installments. Feel free to jump into the conversation as you see fit but be aware that these ideas are a product of my mental ramblings, a progression piece that is inductive. Hence, please make sure to read to the end where I make suggestions on how we can free ourselves from the monster that is the draft.
The Complexities of Grading ‘the Draft’
There are many iterations of how I have dealt with the draft in terms of grading in the past. One was to give a grade out of 100% based on components such as thesis development, basic organization, and utilization of evidence. This method followed my secondary education training where a check minus was awarded 60%, a check 80%, and a check plus 100%. It was meant to streamline to make grading easier but unfortunately, it felt overly simplistic at times. For example, there were moments where a student’s piece, for one reason or another, was not quite a check plus but was most definitely more than a check. In these moments where I contemplated subdivision, I started to feel as if I needed a rubric for a draft to justify straying from my purported grading policy and doing so seemed to be too formal a step for a draft. Another problem I encountered was that I could never bring myself to award a student a check plus because every draft needs improvement and full credit implied perfection. These pitfalls are what prompted me to start toying with other strategies.
For a second iteration, I gave two grades: one was for effort out of 100% and the other was an approximation of where the grade would fall were it the final draft. The approximation did not count towards the student’s overall grade. The problem with this method was that I was essentially grading twice, which was an overly strenuous endeavor. For the first reading, I would try to ascertain how much care and thought was put into the draft, which was an arduous feat in and of itself, and assign an effort grade that seemed suitable. Then, I would read the paper again and grade it as if it were a final paper using our class rubric. This step, however, seemed counterproductive because being a draft, of course it wouldn’t meet the same standards as a final draft.
Furthermore, logically speaking, my comments should have accomplished this task because they would ideally provide subtle prompting meant to guide the student towards fulfilling rubric requirements. My motivation for including this component was based on my belief that students in general are grade focused and as such, they would pay more attention to a number assignation (and hence, utilize my comments more thoroughly). Unfortunately, as with the first iteration, this method led to an unmanageable amount of grading and as a result, I came to another iteration.
I began to assign only an effort grade to the draft while, of course, leaving comments. Being a bit less technical, I felt liberated and a bit more free to award full credit to students whose enthusiasm came across (through word choice, interesting sources, particularly well thought out thesis statements, etc.). This method, however, became problematic because it is extremely difficult to measure effort and the components listed parenthetically above, if absent, do not necessarily mean that a student did not work hard.
Furthermore, my earlier fear (that full credit implied perfection) came to fruition when a student asked if his draft grade was an indicator of how well he would do on his final paper. In response, I explained that the grade was a reflection of the raw potential of the paper and that, with hard work, the paper could do very well. This student went on to fail the portfolio that semester in part because his research paper was limited in scope, the same paper for which his draft received full credit. This iteration left me not only frustrated with a lack of technical resolution but also fearful of potentially stifling a student’s progress via quantitative measurements.
For this semester, I know I need to change my approach yet again because I have started to develop reservations. I wonder, is it reasonable to even give a grade for a draft in the first place? Are we as a discipline contradicting ourselves based upon the principles by which we teach when we assign a grade to a draft?
Be sure to check back soon, for part two of professor Towers-Kubik’ series on [the] Monster of a Draft! In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments below, like, and share!