What I wish students would understand about writing for a college class, part 5

You’ve turned in your work (hopefully on time!), and are anxiously awaiting your grade and the instructor’s feedback. Some are hopeful that their work really paid off; others dread the grade’s appearance.

Let me talk about a basic element of college grades: grades are important and determine a lot of your near future. Getting into a program, maintaining scholarships, graduation, or being considered for a job can be influenced by grades. The most important factor, however, is that a grade does not define you; it only shows how you performed in a class.

Second, most instructors have a philosophy of grades. Mine is simple: grades are earned, not given (just like respect and self-confidence). If you want a good grade, you have to work for it. That means understanding the assignment, expectations of your instructor, and how you’re being graded all play a role in earning the best possible grade (as I’ve discussed in the last few posts).

Third, and probably most essential for my students to understand: I tend to feel empathy for students regarding their grades. When it’s high, I rejoice with them. When it’s low, I feel saddened to my deepest core of self. I want students to do great things, which is why I tend to go over assignments in class and work to ensure they have access to all parts of the assignment from the first day of class.

Fourth, grading takes a while. I don’t simply look over and see if it’s “good enough.” My intention with grading is to ensure that students know why they earned the points they do (or rather, why they didn’t get all the points they wanted on something). I don’t just grade, either; the bulk of my time is spent on providing written feedback on what I liked and what I want to see improved.

Keep this in mind when you go forward with assignments: It’s not just content, as we discuss in my class: it’s how you present the message. An analogy I use frequently to remind me is that a gourmet meal sounds incredible! At the same time, if that beautiful filet of beef, blue cheese, and shrimp is served to me on a dirty trash can lid, I don’t want it. So it is with writing: you can have a brilliant idea, solid understanding of a concept, and superb analysis, but if you convey that message with a lot of spelling, grammar, punctuation, citation, and formatting issues, it influences the reader to think less of your ideas.

Remember what I discussed in class regarding listening and nonverbal communication: appearance matters. We wouldn’t be inclined to take financial advice from a person begging for pocket change on the interstate exit. They could be a financial expert, but we might simply dismiss the idea because of how they look. So it is with writing, too.

All this to say, take pride in the work you submit. Know that I am rooting for you and want you to succeed! If you don’t get the grade you want, read my feedback. You can also make time to come talk to me about what you can do to improve in the future. I’m always hopeful for your improvement, regardless of where you start.

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