Grading and Assessment Practices

All of the classes I teach are communications classes at various levels so there is definitely an emphasis on writing and the writing process. I have been accused of being a “hard” marker, and though this may be true, I give students multiple opportunities to improve their writing and their projects before a final grade is assigned.

There are a number of ways in which I assess students.

Written Assessment

In-Class Writing and Low-Stakes Grading

Many students are intimidated by the writing process so I like to use low-stakes  grading to encourage them to pass in their drafts knowing they won’t do badly. This then allows them to get valuable feedback that will make their final marks for a particular project stronger.

  • At least once a week, students in my classes have to write a paragraph (or more) and pass it in as a draft. I review these and give feedback to the student on structure and content but not on grammar or spelling. There is no grade attached, just written comments. Students then type up the draft incorporating the comments and either a) submit for peer grading (in class) and/or professor grading (pass in) as a mini assignment, or b) submit a number of their best or most improved works towards the end of the semester as part of a portfolio for a major grade.
  • For major assignments, I will often ask for parts of it (introductory paragraph, thesis, outline, rough draft) to be submitted for feedback. Again, there is often no grade or a very small percentage awarded for this process, the idea being to encourage students not to be afraid of the process, but to get comments that will help them improve the final product.
  • Discussion boards, blogs, journals and wikis are used via Blackboard for students to practice their writing,  as well as for debate, review, and interaction.


I incorporate the principles of ICE (Ideas, Connections, Extensions) into every activity or assignment to give students clear expectations of the level of work they need to submit in order to achieve the best possible grade.

Peer and Self Grading 

  • I allow students to self-grade their writing when I feel they will benefit more from reviewing the material themselves than from me telling them where they could improve. This is something I use primarily when there are tangible things I want them to find in their work (ie: underline the thesis statement, identify two different sentence types, double check you have in-text citations for each quote and paraphrase).
  • Peer grading for writing assignments allows stronger students an opportunity to hone their own editing skills and gives weaker students a chance to see how other students have done something and then apply those lessons to their own work.

Major Assignments

  • Whether assessing writing ability or understanding of the material we are studying, I feel written assessments in the form of an essay are always valuable. Because my classes are writing heavy, I like to encourage the writing process to be as detailed as possible. For major assignments, I expect students to turn in outlines, rough drafts, and edited versions along with their final written work. Sometimes, there is time to do some of this during class time.
  • I give a variety of choices for writing assignments in upper level courses. For at least one assignment, students are able to choose between doing two smaller or one larger essay.
  • I like to incorporate creativity (and give students a break from writing) for at least one assignment where possible, and have received some fantastic alternatives to essays over the years (video, poems, paintings, micro-teaching sessions, short stories, graphics, music, plays). For this same assignment, I normally give students the flexibility  to choose their own deadline and establish the grade assessment breakdown.
  • For all major written projects, I have scaled back expectations to shorter word counts and a focus on quality writing.
  • In all cases, before assigning a major assignment, we do a low-grade (5% value) practice version so students can work through the process.


I do not really give tests as such, preferring alternate assessment methods. However, drawing on evidence-based research on Retrieval Practice, I often incorporate aspects of this into classroom activities.

  • Test Your Knowledge – Handing out sticky notes to a class and asking them to write the answer to one key question allows me to assess their learning on a regular, ongoing basis, without tying up much time in terms of marking.
  • Quick Quiz – I like to use quizzes as a revision of material, and often call it a quiz, but then allow students to self or peer mark instead and then write a short paragraph telling me the one thing they are most comfortable with and one thing they feel they need to work on. When I do a quiz, it is often multiple choice or short answer and I have done them both as paper tests, online, and as a game.
  • Take Home/Open Book/Notes – To assess understanding (rather than just a regurgitation of facts), I prefer a short essay test which I feel also eliminates much of the stress of a “test”. I have done Take Home tests, which have to be brought back typed; Open Book, which are done in class time; and am trying something new this term called the Note Page which is done in class but students are permitted to bring in one page of notes. This forces students to determine what the most important information might be, and the act of writing it onto a single page reinforces those concepts in their own heads.
  • Pod Analysis where students have to read/watch/listen to, and evaluate an article at home and then contribute to a peer discussion in class is an excellent assessment tool. Students have to pass in their typed responses, hand annotated with any additional information discussed in their groups. (See also: Classroom Innovation –
  • I never have a Final Exam. I greatly prefer on-going assessment, essay responses and culminating activities.

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