No-Fault Writing Instruction

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Carol Jago follows up on a question she raised in her Educational Leadership article “Writing Is Taught, Not Caught” (April, 2014): How do teachers handle the paper load?

Carol Jago on paperloadMany of us confuse the role of a writing teacher with that of a copy editor. In our efforts to return perfectly corrected papers to students, we spend hours unpacking awkward syntax and rewriting misspelled words on papers that students barely glance at other than to note the grade. Although we are grading papers as fast as we can, the pile just seems to grow taller and taller. Injunctions to assign more writing to prepare students for performance assessment tasks just add to the guilt. We sacrifice weekends, vacations, and relationships to this work. Before long, we start looking for another profession.

In my 32-year career as a middle school and high school teacher, I estimate that I’ve read more than 50,000 student papers, and I’m convinced that we teachers need to give ourselves permission to assign more writing than we can possibly read. Over the course of a unit, you might assign three one-page papers, have students turn in all three with the best one on top, and then grade only that one essay. I know this isn’t paragon pedagogy, but we need to figure out ways to hold students accountable for producing a volume of writing without martyring ourselves. We also need to help students begin to assess the quality of their writing for themselves.

Let’s put our heads together to solve this ubiquitous problem. How do you handle the paper load?