Grading Rationale

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Students rightly wonder about the basis on which I evaluate your written work.  In my classes, essays are never evaluated on the basis of whether or not I agree with the position or view you are advancing in your essay.  Rather, I evaluate essays on the basis of how well you present your views, regardless of what those views may be. I always consider that I am reading your paper on behalf of another reader.  I look for the following items as I read your paper:


Comprehension Of Reading Assignments -

Through the activity of reading comprehension, you attempt to "stand in the shoes" of an author, living, reflecting, and arguing as an author.   You demonstrate abilities in reading comprehension when you summarize an essay, account for a thesis or main argument, or describe key points and their relation to each other, while stating an author's views in  your own words.   All key terms are adequately defined and the author's views are accurately represented.

An accurate representation of an author's views is one that accords with the consensus among scholars currently working in this field. You obtain an accurate representation of the author's views by giving careful attention to the views of an author in those class sessions devoted to study and analysis of the author's position. While direct quotations should only be used for purposes of emphasis in your paper (on occasions when a point is so important it bears repeating in the author's own words or on occasions when a point is so controversial/ surprising that your reader is unlikely to believe the author actually said it), it is important to work closely with the text as you state the author's views in your own words. Documentation (footnotes, page references) should always be offered in your paper.


Clarity Of Presentation Or Critique -

Your engagement with criticism constitutes your primary work as a writer.  Without criticism, texts that you read have no life beyond that of the author.  Without criticism, you have no distance from a text that may facilitate your constructive engagement with it.  Critical analysis proceeds when you raise questions about a reading, voice objections, call for reconsideration of a view, or highlight notions that have been overlooked or misstated.  Criticism is not characterized by negativity.  Instead, it is a productive, positive exercise.   In critical reflection, you consider strengths and weaknesses of an author's views.  You explore positive and negative reactions to an author and state which elements of an author's views you find insightful and which you find problematic.  You not only "stand in the shoes" of an author, you notice their "fit," suggest changes in them, compare them with others, or make plans to redesign them.  You may even question their existence!

A good essay-writer will systematically investigate 2-3 points in her/his essay. At least one of these points will "cut to the heart" of the material being discussed. Reasons and evidence will be given for each point. An assertion will never simply be made. All assertions will be buttressed by reasons; the writer will say, for example, "I think A. because of p., q., and r."


Sophistication Of Argument Or Critique -

In a good argument, "pro" and "con" views are clearly visible. Contrasting views are described in detail and persons who represent them may actually seem to "converse" in the paper.  A good essay avoids repetition as the writer pushes deeper into issues that lie at the very foundation of the "pro" and "con" sides. The writer makes an effort to uncover issues that are so significant that they "make or break" the argument. Moreover, a good essay has vision. When the reader completes it, he or she doesn't say, "So what?"; the writer has given the reader something to ponder.

Readers are more likely to ponder what you have to say if, when constructing an argument, you draw connections, trace similarities and differences between and among readings, and create syntheses. Syntheses can be created by aligning disparate notions and discovering a unique concept, notion, or perspective as a consequence of that conflicting juxtaposition.  Or syntheses may link perspectives among several texts and/or authors, strengthening a position that previously has not been strong enough to stand alone.


Writing etiquette -

Good essays do not distract the reader from the writer's argument. Sources of distraction may be any of the following: poor spelling, faulty grammar, sloppy composition, or sex-exclusive language.

Sample Rubric:  Click here to see the evaluative rubric that I use in courses in the major. Categories in the rubric match those above.

What do you think?

The description of my grading rationale was developed in conversations with students who expressed curiosity about my grading system.  I welcome the opportunity to continue such conversations.  If you have thoughts about the rationale offered here, please do contact me.  My address is: .


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Critical Writing Skills Philosophy of Teaching In-Class Discussion Philosophical Writing Choosing a Topic Grading Rationale UNI vs. High School

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Martha J. Reineke.     Please send correspondence to