(And we’re back. Being sick threw my blogging schedule out the window.)
What’s the point of marking essays?
So often in humanities we make essay-writing the examinable element of a course, and the more I both read up on this, and reflect on this, the more problematic it seems.
Student A comes into my course, and they’re an average writer, they score credits (65% ish) usually. The work hard, do pretty well on course content, write a final essay, and they get a Credit. Why? Because that’s their benchmark ability in essay-writing.
What does this actually tell us about their mastery of course content and syllabus outcomes? Nothing. It tells me they write Credit essays. Maybe they work a little harder, get a Distinction (75%ish). Maybe they have a bad semester, only manage a Pass. But I’m marking their essay, and so really I’m marking their essay-writing ability, not their (insert course X here) ability and learning.
Isn’t this problematic, unless your course actually is a Composition class on Essay writing?
By all means, I can mark their essays, I can give feedback and work hard to help them improve as essay-writers, and master this particular genre of academic discourse, and be better essay-writers for future humanities courses. But this doesn’t get away from the fact that I’m marking their ability to write essays, a general skill that isn’t going to move that much over a semester, not truly their engagement and mastery of whatever course I happen to be teaching. And, given that essays are usually “hand in, get some feedback and a mark, move on”, they are unlikely to review or workshop that essay in a way that improves it anyway. The moment of marking is too late for most students to become about editing and improving.
I don’t really have a solution to this, but I do know that something is broken.